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Startup Cuba: Lessons from the country’s emerging entrepreneurs

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Although the Cuban people continue to suffer and struggle under the weight of communist rule, many have been encouraged by even the slightest of Raul Castro’s incremental changes toward private businesses.

Out of a total population of roughly 11 million, the number of self-employed Cubans has risen from 150,000 to 500,000 in recent years. Although the state still controls the press, the internet, and most of the “formal” economy, a small portion of the Cuban population is gaining a bit of breathing room to innovate and create on their own.

In Startup Cuba, a nine-part documentary series, we get an in-depth glimpse at this aspiring entrepreneurial class, which its creators call “the grittiest and most creative startup scene on the planet.”

Watch the trailer below:

In the debut episode—the only to be released thus far—we see tremendous creativity in action through the lens of a designer, a restaurateur, and a range of underground, black-market hustlers, each of which is constantly challenging the status quo and succeeding, despite the numerous challenges and barriers to business.

In Cuba, there are only 201 legal occupations for entrepreneurs, for example, and the government has made a habit of sporadically suspending licenses, even for businesses that are technically deemed “legitimate.” Also, due to limited internet access and state-controlled media, new businesses struggle to communicate and advertise their products and services.

“Despite the herculean challenges, these entrepreneurs are doing it and they’re moving forward,” says Deckinger. Indeed, after undergoing some painful economic struggles after the fall of the Soviet Union (dubbed “the Special Period”), many Cubans seem to be miraculously confident in their value and giftings, primed and ready to challenge the system and overcome waves of economic obstacles. “The Special Period became their accelerator,” the film explains, “cultivating innovation and honing resilience.”

Far from being crushed by the decades-long abuses of an oppressive regime, Cuba’s emerging entrepreneurs continue to demonstrate remarkable persistence, resilience, and ingenuity. In doing so, they remind the rest of us of the inherent, God-given dignity and creative capacity of the human person—features that endure, not fading or deteriorating according to whatever economic, social, or political dysfunction may surround us.

“They only know how to be creative,” observes host Ken Deckinger. “They only know how to find a solution. They only know how to apply grit to situations. It makes total sense that when they apply those characteristics to startups, they’re going to be rock stars.”

Image: larsen9236 (CC0)

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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