Connecticut-Based Small Businesses Eye Cuban Opportunities | Connecticut Public Radio

Connecticut-Based Small Businesses Eye Cuban Opportunities

Mar 25, 2016

The thaw in relations with Cuba has sparked a huge amount of interest in the possibility of doing business with that nation, after 60 years of isolation. And one Connecticut entrepreneur hopes it's not just U.S. giants that get to play in Cuba.

The big names have already announced their intentions, even before Congress has lifted the trade embargo. Starwood Hotels, General Electric, Airbnb and PayPal are all investigating partnerships in Cuba.

Michelle Stronz was there before them. She's the co-founder of Formata, a New Haven-based leadership consulting firm. She visited Havana two years ago, on a people-to-people trip, and said she'd love to go back now that there's a real possibility to shape Cuba's development.

"I think building small enterprise networks in communities would help build the economy from the ground up," she told WNPR.

U.S. businesses have been allowed since last fall to establish a physical presence in Cuba, but Stronz said there's no real clarity as yet on the rules of doing business. The re-opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana is key. 

"It'll be easier for U.S. companies to work through embassy representatives, particularly commercial officers and the foreign service," Stronz said, "to identify whatever paperwork, or registrations, or any of those kinds of things that they'd have to do."

Entrepreneurs visiting the island nation will find a very different environment from the U.S.

Stronz said even basic infrastructure is lacking. "There's been very little modernization," she said. "Their utility systems need a lot of work. In particular, their water system -- most of which is underground, of course -- is a Spanish system, several hundred years old, and it leaks constantly."

That's not even to mention more 21st century upgrades, like building out broadband. While that might be viewed as either a hindrance or an opportunity, Stronz said she hopes it's not just the multi-national companies that can afford to get involved.

"I hope that does happen -- that small enterprises and middle-market enterprises engage with Cuba," she said. "Because the kinds of exchange of information, and learning and development across economic lines will just be invaluable in Cuba."