As President Obama eases longstanding economic sanctions on the country, Silicon Valley tech companies like Airbnb have seen an opportunity to start doing business with Cubans previously cut off from the American (and much of the world's) economy. Fewer than 4 percent of Cubans have Internet access, according to Stripe--leaving a wide open swath of potential new customers for tech companies looking to expand their international business.
That includes Stripe. The San Francisco-based company, which processes online payments, last month unveiled a new service, Atlas, that essentially lets international entrepreneurs buy a license to do business in the United States. On Friday, Stripe said it was opening up Atlas applications to Cuban entrepreneurs.
"The promise of the internet is that geography should be largely irrelevant. But that is not yet true," Stripe CEO Patrick Collison, who cofounded the company with his younger brother, John, said in a press release. "Especially here in Cuba, people simply do not have access to the high-quality banking or payments infrastructure they need to join the internet economy."
It's a common refrain from the Collisons, Irish twenty-somethings who launched their company in 2011 and are depending on the increased digitization of commerce, and payments, for its growth.
That strategy seems to be working out well so far for Stripe, which has had a very good couple of years: it does business with high-profile partners including Facebook and Apple; it won a $5 billion valuation in its last round of financing, announced last summer; and, the company says, President Obama also invited Patrick Collison to join the White House delegation to Havana next week.
There, Collison will be meeting with Cubans who might soon use Stripe to start online businesses selling goods or services to Americans. For $500, its new Atlas service will set up an international entrepreneurs with a U.S. bank account at Silicon Valley Bank, incorporation as a C-Corp in Delaware, and a Stripe account. Potential customers for the invitation-only service will be identified by Merchise Startup Circle, a Havana-based startup group.
Stripe credited the eased sanctions for its ability to expand into Cuba. Until President Obama announced changes this week, U.S. regulations prevented Cubans from opening bank accounts here. However, "there are still some restrictions on the types of transactions that American banks are able to process," the company acknowledged, adding that it would thus work with Silicon Valley Bank to vet its Cuban customers.