The Cuba Journal caught up with Alex Medina today to discuss tomorrow’s kickoff of Startup Weekend’s first event in Cuba — to be held in Havana at the Panorama Hotel.
Startup Weekend organizes high-impact, experiential events that foster entrepreneurship and community building in every corner of the world. As of last year, the organization hosted 80,000 budding entrepreneurs at 905 Startup Weekend events, in 501 cities, and in 135 countries.
The team organizing the first Cuban Startup Weekend is eager to create the positive experience and impact that so many other attendees have experienced in other developing countries, including Iraq, Guam and Côte D’Ivoire.
According to Alex, this weekend’s event developed from two earlier “digital meetups” that explored the appetite for a Cuban tech/entrepreneur event in Havana. Turns out, there is a great deal of interest in the topic, as evidenced by the fact that attendance for this weekend’s event is already at capacity.
He adds, “We’re focusing solely on technology and entrepreneurs and expanding opportunities for Cubans. There is no political aspect to our event.”
The organizing team for Startup Weekend Havana includes: Ramphis Castro (no relation to Fidel), Medardo Rodriguez and Rodney Hernandez – in addition to Alex. The event’s facilitator is Santiago Zavala, Venture Partner, at 500Startups.
The event’s premium sponsor is .CO, the domain extension that has become synonymous with tech innovation and entrepreneurship globally. .CO is a global sponsor of Startup Weekend events worldwide and made a special effort to be the first “local” sponsor in Cuba to ensure the event had the funding it needed to get off the ground.
According to Lori Anne Wardi, Co-Founder of .CO Internet, and Vice President of Registry Services at Neustar (.CO’s parent company), “There is perhaps no country on earth that better represents the spirit of entrepreneurship than Cuba. We hope that Startup Weekend will be a catalyst to further inspire the Cuban people to foster a culture of tech innovation and entrepreneurship — and to discover new economic opportunities.”
Startup Weekend is launching at the ground level of Cuba’s move away from a policy of isolation. Earlier this year, the Castro government made wifi internet access available to any Cuban able to afford the relatively expensive access cards.
While $2 per hour is an extravagant expense for the average Cuban, demand for surfing the Internet and connecting with ex-patriot relatives has been robust. Cubans tend to surf the Internet by gathering in large numbers around wifi signals at night when the Caribbean heat recedes.
There has also been a surge of tech entrepreneurship among Cubans eager to seize opportunities made available by Cuba’s recent policy changes that make it legal for people to work in small, for-profit enterprises. Known as Cuentapropismo (literal translation “on your own account”), these private sector entrepreneurs today number in the hundreds of thousands.
One such example is a group of young Cubans who won government approval to capture video and images from the vantage point of a drone. The team cobbled together various drone parts from China and elsewhere to create the handmade drone, a lo Cubano. Cubans refer to things made from crafty workarounds and necessity as, “a lo Cubano,” which means “Cuban style.”
The value of aerial video was not lost to government officials who are eager to expand awareness of Cuba’s tourism sector – a key pillar of a national policy to expand sources of hard currency and employment.
According to the event’s Spanish language page, Startup Weekend events are designed to provide high quality experiential education for technical and non-technical entrepreneurs. The aim is that participants learn to create projects for the event, taking the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded individuals in a simulated, risk free environment. Startup Weekend provides attendees with a weekend focused in action, innovation and education, ideal for testing and making the first steps toward the launch of a new business.
Friday, November 6-8, 2015. Event starts at 6:30 pm at the Panorama Hotel Havana, 3rd Avenue and Calle 70, Playa Havana, Cuba 10300
Event Twitter handle: @swhavana