Starting Up in Cuba Today: Gestar, A Startup Incubator
Starting Up in Cuba Today: Gestar, A Startup Incubator
The emerging development of entrepreneurship in Cuba has brought about the birth of new and interesting proposals that contribute to social development, which shows the creative potential that is being unleashed on the Caribbean island nation. In line with these activities and as a logical consequence of this phenomenon, some projects have been conceived to cultivate and support the creation and development of these new ways of economic management.
The Gestar Group is a specific example of this reality, since this project is focused on helping Cuban entrepreneurs manage their business.
Gestar is the realization of an idea that gathered a group of Camaguey-born professionals that agreed to follow the Communion Economy proposal – created in 1991 by Italian catholic Chiara Lubich− in an effort to have a more fraternal and solidary society, as well as higher economic progress.
PanamericanWorld talked to one of Gestar’s members, Ernesto Figueredo, to learn more about this new project.
How was the Gestar Group created?
Gestar was launched as a project on January 21, 2013, after a Planning and Project Management course coordinated by Chicago’s Loyola University and given in Camaguey. Although its first name was EnCuba, it was later changed to register it at the Cuban Office of Industrial Property (COIP), because the geographic name of our country cannot be included in trademarks.
What’s the aim of Gestar?
In terms of the private sector, there is no comprehensive consultancy policy, training or qualification that help assure the success of these economic organizations or those citizens that put their capital and efforts on the line without having the knowledge they require to develop their activity. Entrepreneurship (which is wrongly called self-employee work) is not properly complemented by the professionals, technicians and professors needed to carry out an economic management with the proper quality, profitability and efficiency, as well as responsible environmental management.
How does Gestar support the startups it decides to accelerate?
The first thing is to help people feel accompanied in their way, with confidence and safety in every step they take. We give them the latest elements within the framework of the law –which is not easy because it’s fluctuating and uncertain− and help them do the books to have an effective economic and financial management, as well as a fruitful communication by means of traditional and alternative means.
Which of the startups accelerated by Gestar have obtained the best results?
We haven’t used the term “accelerate”. We mainly incubate and accompany them, or just accompany those that have been operating for some time. The best results have been achieved by LA FE farm, a mini-industry of vegetables and preserved spices; EL SITIO, VIDEOZOOM audiovisual productions, PC-KMC informatics solutions workshop, ARCUS construction services, ACOSTA gym, TIEMPOS NUEVOS construction cooperative, REBEKA textile craftworks. The first three were incubated by us and two of them are still being accompanied. Helping them put their business idea together and guiding them to the opening day is already an important result, because there are many variables to be taken into account.
What would be Gestar’s piece of advice to Cuban entrepreneurs?
They need more organization and they have to think as businesspeople. They have to go from the small store to the business, the company. Many people interested in opening a business think that money is what matters the most, but I tell them to make their Business Plan to guarantee part of the success. This is more related to mind and cultural aspects instead of money, which is wrongly linked to the success or failure. We have to fall in love with our project and be patient. The Cuban people is very passionate and we always want to make things fast so we see the results even faster. The patience is cultivated with everyday perseverance and work, but if you don’t love what you do, you won’t make sacrifices for it. You must visualize your goal: the business you want to have. Then it takes a lot of courage to walk to that vision and correct elements on your way there.
Your business is not a hobby: you produce for other people to consume what you do. So, do your best. A happy customer will bring more customers. Organize a good work team, so the people around you get the very best of you and hold your back. If you are trying to do things right, good people will come to you.
What do you make of the present situation of entrepreneurship in Cuba?
Uncertain is a term that could describe it. There is huge uncertainty, the people feel a tremendous risk when it comes to investing, going out of a comfort area (a job). The current legislation in terms of self-employee worker, artisans and artists, small and medium companies, and cooperatives is precarious, partial and unfair. The main difficulties are related to the access to raw materials, marketing and hiring, poor technical and management knowledge, access to production technologies and ICT´s (including Internet). We’re also seeing replicas of violent structures from capitalist companies, and inefficient and bureaucratic elements from socialist companies.
Many doors have been opened to a range of activities, bank funding (which we recommend), advertising possibilities, relations with State-run organisms. But there are years of difference with the rest of the world.
By Jorge Carlos de La Paz / PanamericanWorld - Havana