Stripe, a San Francisco, Calif.-based mobile payments startup that allows merchants to accept bitcoin, has announced that its Stripe Atlas service will be available to businesses in Cuba in conjunction with President Obama’s trip to Havana this week. Stripe users, including Atlas, can accept bitcoin along with credit cards, Android Pay, Alipay and 135 currencies. Stripe Atlas will allow Cubans to establish online businesses.
Stripe Atlas will give Cuban entrepreneurs access to an incorporated U.S. business entity, a U.S. bank account for the newly-created entity, and a Stripe account to receive payments from customers worldwide.
The offering is designed to allow Cubans to have an Internet-based business in a country that has almost no infrastructure to support such a business. Cuba’s Internet penetration stands at 4% of the population, among the lowest in the world. Few people own credit cards, so Cubans can’t pay or get paid online.
Despite these challenges, more than 70% of Cubans surveyed recently said they wanted to start their own business.
One of the most significant components of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba is the Office of Foreign Asset Control’s restrictions on access to financial services by Cuban nationals, according to Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe. On Tuesday, these were some of the first restrictions to be relaxed by the White House. “This removes one of the biggest impediments to Cubans participating in the global financial system,” Collison noted on his blog.
Stripe Atlas’ expansion to Cuba benefited from rule changes announced earlier this week by the Obama Administration. The new regulations allow U.S. banks to open accounts for Cuban nationals living in Cuba.
“Today’s announcement and our work with President Obama here in Havana are about facilitating a smooth path for Cuban entrepreneurs into the modern global economy,” said Collison. “The promise of the Internet is that geography should be largely irrelevant. But that is not yet true. 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.”
To help support Cuban entrepreneurs, Stripe is working with Merchise Startup Circle, a Havana-based group supporting Cuban startups. Alex Medina, co-founder and director of Merchise Startup Circle, said there are lots of very good software developers in Cuba. Until now, these people have had no way to put those ideas into practice and no way to create a company for people to invest in.
“For the first time, Stripe Atlas will give people in our community a way to start their own business online and get paid for the things they create,” Medina said.
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During the recently-launched beta period, entrepreneurs will need a Stripe invitation from one of its 70 accelerator, incubator, and investor partners, including Merchise Startup Circle in Cuba. Beta pricing is $500 USD, which includes about $400 in fees required for incorporating in Delaware, where Stripe is incorporated. Stripe worked with its advisory board members including Ben Lawsky, Lawrence Summers, Linda Rottenberg and Fadi Ghandour.
Restrictions still exist on transactions that American banks can process. Stripe and Silicon Valley Bank will review applications from Cuban entrepreneurs and work to ensure that any banking services provided to the U.S. business entity will comply with the restrictions.
Since Stripe announced its Atlas program, businesses from 186 countries have applied for access, Collison noted.
“We’re excited to work with entrepreneurs here in Cuba to help them get started, expand their businesses, and access the full power of the internet economy,” said Collison.
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