When Jorge Espinosa visited Cuba a few years ago, he saw innovation at work: People were manufacturing antennas out of tin cans and other pieces of trash so they could pick up the TV transmissions from hotels. "Lots of people are hungry for the tools to succeed in business," says Espinosa, a Cuban-born intellectual property attorney in Miami. "They need the management skills, the products and the new technologies we take for granted here."
Of course, most experts say there probably will not be an influx of new products into Cuba from the U.S. any time soon due to the U.S. trade embargo. However, most Cuba watchers think there will be enormous opportunities on the island for businesses large and small when the embargo ends.
One sign of demand, says Tom Mouhsian, associate director of the Washington, DC, office of PR firm MWW Group, is the rising volume of trade between the U.S. and Cuba since 2000, when Congress began allowing U.S. businesses to export food and medicine to the island. "The numbers went from $6.6 million in 2001 to $361 million in 2005," Mouhsian says. "There's demand for our products."
To get your foot in the door, you can register trademarks in Cuba to pave the way for future business dealings there, says Espinosa--although he warns there's a danger that the Cuban government will stop honoring these trademarks to retaliate against the embargo.
Olga Pina, a Tampa, Florida, attorney who specializes in international trade, suggests entrepreneurs read economic reports on Cuba and pay attention to its needs. Entrepreneurs should also try to network at conferences with Cuba's midlevel government officials--people who are likely to have a continuing influence no matter who's at the top. Says Pina, "These are the people who can help you when the opportunity presents itself."