They are four friends. They used to spend time dreaming during their gatherings and placing on the table the skills each one of them could contribute to a common enterprise. An economist with a master in Business Administration, a graphic designer, a communicator and a biologist with a master’s degree in International Relations and qualified in Foreign Trade; all of them young, all of them wanting to change together with Cuba.
They wanted to try themselves out as agents of their own business in a country where there are already more than half a million private workers and thousands of private enterprises. That’s how AUGE was born in October 2014. After almost two years they proudly present themselves with a portfolio of more than 20 clients who have decided to place their trust in them to receive business advice.
The venture began with a four-month research for a first diagnosis of 128 private businesses in Havana. Between the four they went to businesses in Plaza, Playa and Old Havana and devoted themselves to making “spy client” or “secret client” visits, a research technique adapted to Cuba’s conditions.
“We wanted to avoid being taken for inspectors, for example. We passed ourselves off as clients and used an observation guide to detect the business’s concept, if it did have one, its weak and strong points and made an initial list of recommendations for them.”
“During those days,” they say, “we had no choice but to spend money from the little we had.” That was, let’s say, their seed capital.
“Sometimes we only asked for a coffee or we would share a small bottle of water. At others we would go with the story that we were organizing a celebration for our parent’s 50th wedding anniversary, or the New Year’s Eve party of a supposed enterprise for which we were working. And then they would give us a great deal of information.”
In the end they got what they needed: a map to know where to start off and which doors to knock on to provide their business advice services.
There were many people who tried to dissuade them. “The people here don’t know about marketing,” they would tell them. “But we have verified that the people do know and do understand.”
The majority of the clients comprised already established businesses and asked for help to improve their work: from graphic design solutions to the re-launching of brand or repairs in their model. Others have sought out AUGE to make feasibility studies, to organize a concept, to prepare their birth.
“Now there is a will among the owners who perceive their needs and can pay for that type of services.”
Everything has changed. In the 1990s there were only a handful of paladares in Havana, which could only have 12 chairs. Today there are more than 500 restaurants in the capital. Some are rather large and they compete with international standards. “We in AUGE have tried to build an offer that can be accessed by these new entrepreneurs.”
Up to now they gave provided services to businesses that are still predominant in Cuba and that have more needs for sharing and establishing their advantages: restaurants, bars, cafeterias, software development teams, spas, gyms.
“Today we can sell AUGE’s services easier than two years ago. Not only because we have more experience and we feel surer of ourselves, but also because there is a greater need in the market for applying this type of knowhow.”
AUGE is a team that has already surpassed its four original members. “Our philosophy is to give a comprehensive service, but without trying to display what we are not. When we need specialization in other areas we seek professionals.” AUGE creates alliances to resolve problems. There is already in Cuba a network of businesses that provide professional services to other businesses in the most diverse areas.
The majority of them have had to prepare the ground with difficulties, with a restrictive legal framework. Their work depends on highly valuable technical and professional knowhow. At times their functions are not correctly understood by the regulators.
“Those who decide to be enterprising play a positive role in society. They are not necessarily people who are going to get rich; they are not the embryo of heartless capitalists. They are the ones who generate service, supply a product that’s not available, generate jobs, pay taxes and contribute to redistributing wealth and to financing the social programs that distinguish this society.”
The entrepreneurs in Cuba need some fundamental boosts: many more training actions, multiplication of financial facilities and spaces for dialogue among them and with the authorities. “Unfortunately today that dialogue exists in very few places.”
“The situation of the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba,” they say, “far from being inhibiting should promote more the development of this sector based on a serious political will. The express aim of the U.S. government is to use private enterprise as an agent of change, it should be an additional incentive to favor a sector with an awareness of Cuba, persons who are patriotic and who understand their role in this society. The funny part is that these people exist, there are many of them. You just have to continue struggling with problems, obstacles, suspicions….”
AUGE has the possibility of helping to turn the dreams of others into efficient, lasting realities. Last May they were represented in the 7th Annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in Palo Alto, California. Together with 10 other Cuban private enterprises they got to know firsthand about experiences from all parts of the world. They were able to reaffirm that undertaking a business, under any circumstance, is difficult. The thing is to fall in love with an idea – the better if it’s good – and not abandon the ring in the first round.
AUGE is the sum and integration of these professionals:
Lyly Díaz, graphic designer
Suselmi Martín Guilarte, communicator
Oniel Díaz Castellanos, biologist, master in International Relations and qualified in Foreign Trade
Frank Orta, economist with a master’s degree in Business Administration