A Tech Conversation with Cuban Students at Grand Central Tech

| MSNY Staff


Grand Central Tech is an accelerator in New York City that Microsoft has partnered with to help grow the startup community in the city. In partnership with C.A.A, Innovadores and Miles Spencer, GCT hosted four Cuban STEM students for the summer, introducing them to the startup ecosystem here in the city. The program was well-received in the press as technology becomes one of the first conversations American and Cuban citizens are having after half a century of restricted relations.

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While speaking with the “Innovadores”, we learned a ton about the state of technology in Cuba, how people are slowly becoming more connected, and how far there is to go. Most interestingly, we got to hear directly from the students what they felt was needed to help build out Cuba’s technology scene.

If you’d like to hear from our friends directly, we invite you to watch this video profiling their time with Grand Central Tech:

YouTube Video

Now, a note about internet connectivity in Cuba. While Cuba is one of many countries to have skipped desktop computing and embraced mobile, there is a glaring issue. Cubans do not have access to mobile data plans. They have the devices needed to build and consume modern web applications, but they do not have the infrastructure to access those services nor the technical know-how to build the applications themselves. Instead, many Cubans subscribe to the “paquete”. Their members then use file transfer services like Zapya to further distribute the digital content. Much of what constitutes “internet access” in Cuba mainly involves taking material available online elsewhere and converting it to an offline format accessible to the Cuban people.

So how did the students we met with see themselves contributing to technological innovation in such a fundamentally different digital environment?

In brief, the students didn’t want us to build stuff to help them. Instead, they asked for the tools and education to help themselves. To use an old analogy, they didn’t want us to give them a bunch of fish. They wanted lessons and resources to build fishing poles and catch dinner for themselves.

The first step that these students brought up was the creation of a community where young people could come together and simply share and develop their ideas. They then wanted international entities to support their efforts by providing hardware, software, and educational opportunities abroad so that they could grow both the hard (hardware) and soft (technical and educational) technological knowledge bases in Cuba. As connectivity and access to technology improve, the tech community that has coalesced through these efforts will endow the Cuban people with the tools and expertise needed to hit the ground running and design the kinds of tools and applications that they already consume so voraciously.