The Race to Create Cuba 2.0 Is On

Google announced Monday a joint venture to provide internet and smartphone technology to the country.

When it comes to moving Cuba into the 21st century economy, connection is key. And Silicon Valley companies have pesos in their eyes, imagining Cuba 2.0.

Google announced Monday a joint venture to provide internet and smartphone technology to the country.

Currently, less than five percent of Cuban households have internet access. The Cuban government has pledged to expand this to 60 percent by 2020.

“I think that the energy and feedback that we're getting from our counterparts in Cuba is that there's a lot of excitement about expanding access to technology and the internet,” said Google’s Brett Permutter in Havana.

At Havana’s Museo Orgánico Romerillo, Cuban children will get their first taste of the internet. In an exhibit, they’ll have access to Chromebooks to explore websites from around the world.

America’s new strategy to try and work with Cuba to improve quality of life also comes with a potential gold mine for Bay Area businesses.

“Companies like Cisco, Applied Materials, Intel, SAP, Oracle – they’re all going to have an interest in how do you grow that infrastructure,” said Matthew Mahood, president & CEO of San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Mahood says another issue for companies is Cuba’s multiple currencies, but he says many companies have experience going into emerging markets, “so they’ll figure it out.”

Other Bay Area companies also have their eyes on Cuba too.

Starting April 2, Airbnb will expand their presence in Cuba after the U.S. Department of Treasury granted the home-sharing website a special license to provide stays in Cuba to non-US travelers.

500 Startups has already invested in more than 100 startups in the region. The firm, with offices in San Francisco and Mountain View, is setting up operations in Miami to serve as a tech hub between the island and the continental U.S.

“The talent base I think is pretty similar. I think what makes a huge difference is access to market. With this opening, I think it will really change things significantly for any talent, particularly the ones that are in Cuba,” managing partner Bedy Yang said.

Yang says 500 Startups is working with Cuban small business founders working on projects involving money transfers and marketplace listings similar to sites such as Craigslist.

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