Cuba’s Emerging Tech Entrepreneurs Aim to Move Country Forward
by CARMEN SESIN
MIAMI, Fla. — Five young tech entrepreneurs from Cuba gathered in Miami
for a discussion on emerging technology on the island, and they all have
one thing in common – their desire to move the country forward.
The entrepreneurs told a packed audience at the Dec. 7 event sponsored
by #CubaNow and TechWeek that the number one obstacle they have to
circumvent on a daily basis is the lack of internet.
Cuba is one of the least connected and internet accessible countries.
Though the government says about a quarter of Cubans have regular
internet access, organizations like Freedom House estimate it can be as
low as 5 percent. In July the government opened 35 Wi-Fi hotspots across
the island, but apart from the fact it works sporadically, the $2 an
hour rate is an exorbitant amount for people earning the monthly state
salary of $20.
Creating a tech platform without direct internet access is quite
daunting. But as with everything else, Cuban tech entrepreneurs have
become masters of invention and DIY tactics in order to get by.
Perhaps one of the most well-known tech platforms in Cuba is El Paquete
Semanal or “The Weekly Package.” It has garnered attention from the
press in recent months because of the original and simplistic way in
which it enables huge numbers of Cubans without internet access to get
The Paquete consists of one terabyte of digital material that includes
the latest Hollywood movies, TV series, music, and magazines, among
others. Each week, the selected content is compiled and delivered
through a network of hundreds of distributers who take a hard drive to
the door of the subscriber and copy the information to their computer.
Elio Hector Lopez, who was one of the creators of the Paquete, told NBC
News “at the beginning we saw this as a way to make money – but after
having penetrated the entire country we see it more as a responsibility.”
For one tech entrepreneur at the event, reaching users in Cuba became
difficult after the classified website he co-founded, Revolico, was
censored by the government. Afraid officials would uncover he was the
creator and wanting to pursue a tech career, Hiram Centelles left for
Cordoba, Spain, where he now lives.
Despite continued censorship, Centelles says Revolico has around 9
million monthly users including some in Cuba and others outside the
island. He says those in Cuba use alternative methods such as proxies to
log onto the site. Since all his work focuses on his home country, he’s
considering spending more time in Cuba, explaining “you can have more of
an impact inside the island.”
Along with Ubaldo Huerta, who also lives in Spain and was at the event,
Centelles created a bill-paying platform called Fonoma, which allows
Cuban cell phone accounts as well as the cards used to access Cuba’s new
public WiFi hotspots to be paid from anywhere in the world. He cited the
lack of marketing in Cuba as a major obstacle. Centelles said “Although
I left, I feel I have contributed to improving the country.”
Yodainer Gutierrez, co-founded an app called AlaMesa,(“tothetable”)
which serves as a directory for paladares or privately owned restaurants
in Cuba. Gutierrez, who also works as a freelance web designer for
companies around the world, says it’s important to find solutions to
problems with what they have – because that’s the job of an entrepreneur.
Marta Deus created a cooperative that helps those who are self-employed
to develop business plans, market their services, and deal with all the
regulations and licenses required by the government. After spending 13
years in Spain where she received an MBA, she decided to move back to
Cuba precisely to work with the burgeoning private sector. “Young people
are always thinking about leaving but I think Cuba has a future,” Deus said.
The event was moderated by Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College and
author of “Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape.” It took
place at The Lab Miami, one of the city’s first co-working spaces
dedicated to encouraging entrepreneurial innovation.
Ric Herrero is executive director of #CubaNow, a U.S.-based organization
that fosters increased communication and connections with the Cuban
people. Herrero echoed the same optimistic feeling the entreneurs shared
about Cuba’s future.
“I think the future of technology in Cuba is very promising,” said
Herrero. “As we expand the flow of telecommunications [and] access to
telecommunications and all sorts of digital tools, you’re going to see
incredibly innovative and wonderful things.”
Source: Cuba’s Emerging Tech Entrepreneurs Aim to Move Country Forward –
NBC News –
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