Doing Business in the Caribbean: An Overview of Belize, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti

Doing Business in the Caribbean

Belize, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti are small countries that have varying degrees of development, openness, but all four are filled with entrepreneurial people. Read on to find out what it’s like to do business in each of these countries, as well as startups pushing their way through to gain traction and get out of their local market.

Doing Business in Belize

This small tropical country (population of 360k) nestled under Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula has long been a top tourist destination but lags behind the rest of the region in entrepreneurship.

The GDP is US$1.76B, and there is currently only one coworking space located in Belize City, Alliance Business Centres, and monthly salaries remain low at around US$800 per month, though the cost of living is relatively higher in Belize than in neighboring countries. Belize’s official language is English, making it simple for those from the United States to work there without having to learn another language.

Local startups such as Boarding Path, the “Google Maps” for inside airports, and Gone Green Superfoods, a manufacturer and importer of the most nutrient-dense superfoods available, target foreign markets – in line with Belize’s fame as a tourism destination – but are slowly gaining traction worldwide. Compared neighboring Costa Rica and Panama, Belize’s ecosystem is much smaller and there are fewer tech startups, but it could be an interesting middle ground, as it’s safer than countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Doing Business in Cuba

This small island nation of 11 million people has the most tightly controlled Internet in the world, so it is an unlikely candidate to join the wave of tech innovation in Latin America.

With a GDP of US$87.13 billion and average monthly salary of 687 pesos (US$25), Cuba is not the ideal place for a startup venture. Nonetheless, Cubans are among the most highly educated people worldwide and often succeed in overcoming enormous hurdles to become entrepreneurs.

Two startups, YoTeLlevo and El Paquete Semanal, provide web-based services that get around the extreme lack of Internet access on the island. El Paquete delivers hard drives with popular web content – news, TV shows, movies, etc. – to customers around Cuba, and is even hired by local companies to help with digital marketing in a country without WiFi.

Unsurprisingly, there are no coworking spaces on the island, but Internet can be purchased by the hour at one of a few cafes. Some entrepreneurs are looking at hiring developers, but at this stage it seems like something that might happen a few years into the future if the government liberalizes.

Doing Business in the Dominican Republic

With a population of 10 million, the Dominican Republic has grown to become a middle-income country, with average salaries rising to US$363/month and a GDP of US$71.58 billion.

Though the startup scene is relatively new, the DR hosts multiple tech companies, including Ravn and Jompeame. Ravn is a highly secretive messaging app that can be hidden within other fully functioning apps so that only the users know its location. Jompeame is a fundraising platform for extreme poverty causes – the first of its kind in Latin America.

Another noteworthy cause is the Luma Project, which has built a campus to provide free education to entrepreneurs in the Dominican Republic to help empower more innovation on this Caribbean island nation.

The DR produces a nice supply of developers, leading to companies like Instacarro opening development offices to target the Brazilian market and companies like Virtu that use technology platforms to help locals to create goods for export. You can listen to Virtu’s cofounder Jason Grullón on the Crossing Borders podcast to learn more about the DR’s ecosystem.

Doing Business in Haiti

Haiti’s population of 10 million people run on a minimum wage of US$4.50 per day. GDP is US$8.023 billion, and along with Bolivia is one of the least developed and lowest income countries in Latin America.

The local languages are French and Creole, making it harder to operate if you’re not a speaker. One company, ManmanPemba, offers a weekly newsletter of events across Haiti, as well as a Yelp-like search function to find any local restaurant, bar, or business.

Other notable startups include Lajan Cash, the Venmo for Haiti, and Ramase Lajan, a program that creates jobs for Haitians through recycling. Haitians are trying to move away from being synonymous with disaster relief to more towards innovation and entrepreneurship, working on businesses that meet local basic needs.

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