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International Business Takes Entrepreneurship Students to Cuba

Entrepreneurship students leave for Cuba.

Business faculty William Andrews and Lou Paris led Entrepreneurship seminar in Cuba with students from Innsbruck, Austria.

Stetson International Business (IB) faculty members, William Andrews, Ph.D., and Professor Luis Paris led a two-week seminar entitled Entrepreneurship and Culture with 20 students from Austria’s Management Center of Innsbruck (MCI). The program was designed to introduce the MCI students to the highly developed entrepreneurial ecosystem that exists in Central Florida, then contrast that with Cuba’s emerging market economy.

“I was delighted with the way the program turned out,” said Andrews. “The students experienced some of Central Florida’s marquee entrepreneurship events including Orlando Venture Pitch, Start-up Quest, and Million Cups, while also getting briefings from the National Entrepreneurship Center, the Central Florida incubator network, and prominent entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.”

During the second week, the “classroom” was moved to Havana, Cuba, where the recent thaw in U.S. – Cuban relations, coupled with an internal relaxation of restrictive commercial policies in Cuba have fueled great anticipation of economic progress and development among the Cuban people.

“We had some very informative briefings in Cuba. Our legal briefing with some of their most experienced lawyers helped us understand how business would be conducted under the new constitutional guidelines enacted last year. In general, projects of any size will have the Cuban government as the majority partner, but exceptions are possible. They have targeted certain sectors including biotech, informatics, agriculture and tourism as preferential sectors where an eight-year tax holiday is allowed.”

Surprisingly, the Cuban government still prohibits foreign investment in Cuba’s small-business sector – one of the very sectors they are trying to encourage. So technically speaking, a micro-lending facility to support grass-roots entrepreneurship would be illegal.

“It is clear that the small-business community there is starved for capital, so hopefully this policy will change soon. Nevertheless, we were told that many of these small-time entrepreneurs fund their businesses from remittances from family abroad.” While it is not yet legal for U.S. businesses to participate in the Cuban economy, Andrews believes the change will occur soon.

The MCI students especially appreciated the applied and experiential nature of the seminar and anticipate that Stetson will be asked to offer the program again. “They were a great group of students,” Andrews commented. “They were smart, motivated, and presented themselves well in the professional environment; I hope we can do this again.”