On the Ground in Cuba: Quarter 1 Update, 2017

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It was a big quarter for the Innovadores team. The year started off with our private rooftop New Year’s party hosted by one of Havana’s best DJ’s and ended with our organization being featured on the cover of Cuba Trade Magazine (below). But it hasn’t all been parties and photoshoots. We’ve been working hard with our teams in order to mentor, foster, and grow the technology and entrepreneurship communities here in Cuba.

It’s not easy. But boy is it rewarding.

Jono Cover.jpg
Innovadores Managing Director Jono Matusky on the cover of the April issue of Cuba Trade Magazine

A big thank you to everyone that’s supported us over the past two years. Your donations go directly to advancing Cuban tech and design, and your time and mentorship is invaluable to the teams that we work with. Below are a few examples of the types of work your generous support goes towards.

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Project Updates

Over the past three months, we’ve been working closely with three entrepreneurial teams in different areas of technology and design. We’re providing mentorship and resources to Encuadre, a group that’s developed a network of independent filmmakers in Cuba. It’s a large untapped market that’s currently fragmented and dominated by one or two major players relying on dated processes. Sound familiar?

Miles and Jono with the Savior and Encuadre teams


We’ve continued working with the team behind Cuba’s first independent videogame. Last fall we helped them launch one of Cuba’s first crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for their demo—to be released later this month at the Amaze gaming festival in Berlin. They were just at Makerfaire Miami this past weekend and we’ll be throwing a demo launch party at the Ludwig Foundation in late May. If you’re interested in joining, tickets are still available on the Indiegogo page.


Cuba’s well-known clothing shop will be launching their brand in the US later this year. We’re helping them find clothing suppliers, evaluating co-branding deals, and connecting them with our fashion advisor Lilly at Fashion Snoops. We also hired them to freshen up our brand—stay tuned for the changes. Clandestina’s quarter ended with a fantastic runway show at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano with a special guest appearance​ by the ClandesDINO—a goofy gift we gave them for New Years. Read More.

Clandestina founders Leire Fernandez and Idania Del Rio with store mascot Clandesdino

Beyond these three teams, we’ve been working with numerous others to provide mentorship and connections to the US, in a wide range of industries—from real estate to jewelry to media to design to technology.

Summer Interns on Malecon.jpeg

Our application for the 2017 summer internship program is now open. For the third year in a row, we’ll bring three Cuban students to New York City for six weeks to work for startups in the incubator program at Grand Central Tech. This year we’re adding an additional mentorship component with folks in our entrepreneurial network in New York. The final selection will be made at an event in Havana the first week of May.

Interested in mentoring our interns or working with one of our teams?
Contact Us

CP.Cuba.Caufield2 square.jpgFrom the Desk of John Caulfield, Former Head of the US Interests Section in Havana, 2011-2014

The future of US-Cuban bilateral relations awaits the Trump Administration’s review of Cuba policy. The new administration has not yet reversed any of the Obama Administrations economic openings to Cuba pending this review, nor has it announced any new initiatives. Cuba has taken a cautious approach to the Trump administration. It has refrained from personal criticism of President Trump although it has expressed solidarity with Mexico over the planned wall and potential US protectionist measures. Cuba appears to be going through a reevaluation of its economic policies as it balances the need to accelerate the economy while maintaining its system of central planning. President Raul Castro has stated that he will retire from the Presidency of Cuba in February 2018, likely opening the way for first head of government born after the Revolution. In this transition year, decision making is likely to be even more cautious as officials try to sense what new policies may accompany the transition.

Trips and Advising

Our Foundation hosted two group trips and assisted with countless others over the past three months. Both trips provided a deep dive into Cuban entrepreneurship by connecting US and Cuban designers, developers and business owners from a variety of backgrounds.

New Years Small.jpgNew Years

Our New Year’s trip, which we would like to make an annual event, brought down ten young professionals for a exploration of Cuban art and agriculture.

Keep Reading


In March, we led a delegation of the Business Owners Council, an organization of entrepreneurs and business owners in a wide range of industries.

Keep Reading

Our visits include a stop at the US Ambassador’s residence, meetings at the Mariel Special Development Zone, and panel discussions with Cuban entrepreneurs at the Ludwig Foundation. At least two concrete business opportunities came out of our last trip—one as a t-shirt supplier and the other for contract design work. Cuban entrepreneurship is real. It’s ready.

Want to join one of our trips to Havana? We have a few more coming up this year—including another New Year’s event—but spots are limited.
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We also assisted, met with, or advised over 50 different entrepreneurs, designers, developers and students on their visits to Cuba, and launched our “bespoke” trip planning platform—customized, individual experiences for business people who are serious about drilling down into specific areas of Cuban industry.

There will be four additional group trips before the end of the year–June, September, the Marabana in November and the New Year’s event In December/January.

If you’re interested in joining us on one of our excursions, or looking for help planning a custom trip, contact us.

Miles square.jpgBack from Havana, by Miles Spencer

I’m back from Havana, this time feeling so alive with optimism. It’s measured, long term optimism, but optimism because of how many things progressed in two years. First, the mere fact that I did get a notification on Facebook means there was wifi, with increasing coverage. The fact that we had a dozen investors and entrepreneurs with us discovering ways to work in Cuba seemed unfathomable two years ago. Sitting in on a fabulous diplomatic briefing from Scott Hamilton, Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy, was nothing I could have grasped back then. Of course, eating at the best Paladares and enjoying the best Cuban rum and cigars was totally within what we expected our man in Havana, Jono Matusky, to uncover. He seems to know that category well. Meeting with the founder of the first private businesses permitted in Cuba? Unimaginable. Tour the Mariel free trade zone? Impossible. Listen and question Cuban tech Entrepreneur’s on their products a la Shark Tank? Pure fantasy. Meet with the best and most famous designers and artists in their homes and shops? Who does that?

We launched our for-profit advisory arm, called simply Innovadores LLC, as opposed to the Innovadores Foundation, our 501(c)(3). We’re already working with several US-based businesses to help them pursue real opportunities in Cuba, in areas authorized by both Cuban and US regulations from real estate to software development to design.

To that end, we also added several advisors to our team: Lilly Berelovich, Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Fashion Snoops, who has supported our foundation for nearly a year; Derrick Chen, a longtime entrepreneur and investor; and Gwen Chelidze, a real estate attorney who will be helping us evaluate the Cuban market. They join existing Innovadores advisors Eileen Scully, marketing and social media advisor, and Greg Matusky, public relations advisor.

New Advisors.jpg
New Innovadores Advisors, left to right: Lilly Berelovich, Derrick Chen, and Gwen Chelidze

Want to do business in Cuba? Now is the time.
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Media, Marketing and Workspaces

We relaunched our website, including a new blog. If you’re looking for more detailed updates on our operations, follow us. We’ll be posting regularly. And for some great Cuba photography, check out our Instagram.

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In addition to the Cuba Trade piece, we’ve had a few other stories about the work we’re doing down here. NPR wrote an article about our work with Savior, including some great quotes from Miles. John penned two articles on the opportunities presented in Cuba, one titled “Waiting for Change in Cuba” in The Hill and another on Cuban real estate opportunities in GlobeSt.com. Jono was quoted in a long-form article in Racked about fashion in Cuba, which also featured our friends over at Clandestina. Read more on our news page.

We’re still in the process of receiving approval for our incubator space, but we’re more optimistic than ever. We’ve spent the past three months diving deeply into the murky, but promising, realm of Cuban real estate. John spoke at the iGlobal Forum’s Real Estate Private Equity Summit last month. We think there are opportunities for live/work spaces, and we are planning to support a collaborative design space in Havana in the next few months. More on that soon.

If you’re interested in Cuban real estate, now is the time to see it in person.

Looking Forward

Though Cuba is a land of uncertainty, we think the future looks bright for Innovadores. The last three months were busy, but the next three look even busier–more trips, more advisory work, more concrete help for our Cuban teams, the opportunity for a live/work space, several additional publications, and of course the launch of the summer intern program. We’re already excited.

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