Above: Miles Spencer
President Barack Obama’s historic March visit to Cuba signaled a détente that eased more than fifty years of Cold War tensions. Yet months before Air Force One touched down on the Caribbean island, the team at the Greenwich-based Innovadores Foundation had already been engaging in some high-tech cross-cultural diplomacy with young, aspiring Cuban entrepreneurs.
Last July the Greenwich-based foundation, whose founders include town resident and angel investor/innovation expert Miles Spencer, brought four Cuban students to Manhattan to immerse them in the entrepreneurial culture through the startup incubator Grand Central Tech.
Inspired by the experiences of the first group of students, Innovadores (Spanish for innovators) will send its second class of promising Cubans ages sixteen to twenty to the Big Apple this month. The foundation picks up the tab for their lodging, meals and travel so they can begin their journey of learning more about potential advancements in technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.
The motivation for mentoring the Cuban students is simple, says Spencer: “I’ve been all over the world, and what I’ve seen from them in terms of their epic resourcefulness is extraordinary. We believe they’re in the best position to solve Cuba’s problems.”
The foundation’s local supporters including Greenwich residents John and Hollie Franke, traveled with Spencer to Cuba and helped pave the way for the first interns to arrive with the help of diplomat John Caulfield, who served as chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana until 2014. The Frankes also helped expand the Innovadores program to include internships in food and fashion, which start this summer.
Twenty-one-year-old Havana native Raul Saunders spent last summer working at startup incubator Grand Central Tech in Manhattan as a guest of the Greenwich-based Innovadores Foundation. Because communication with the island nation is still complicated, the engineering student answered questions through a foundation representative via email.
1 IMPORTANT LESSONS
“That every second counts when it’s about the tech industry, marketing and innovation…I also had the pleasure of interacting with the American culture and the American people in their motherland and learning the true meaning of the American dream.“
2 ON HIS MOTIVATION
“I now know how to work harder because they pushed my limits and forced me to think harder and outside the box. I can see now how this is a turning point for our society for a better tomorrow, and I see it is in tech.”
3 ON COMING TO AMERICA
“It (was) very important because we don’t have a tech industry in Cuba, and it’s important to see what the world is up to.“