AUGE

Mold­ing the Dreams of Oth­ers

On Cuba - - ENTREPENEURS | EMPRENDEDORES - Milena Re­cio

THEY ARE FOUR FRIENDS. THEY USED TO SPEND TIME DREAM­ING DUR­ING THEIR GATH­ER­INGS AND PLAC­ING ON THE TA­BLE THE SKILLS EACH ONE OF THEM COULD CON­TRIB­UTE TO A COM­MON EN­TER­PRISE. AN ECON­O­MIST WITH A MAS­TER IN BUSI­NESS AD­MIN­IS­TRA­TION, A GRAPHIC DE­SIGNER, A COM­MU­NI­CA­TOR AND A BI­OL­O­GIST WITH A MAS­TER’S DE­GREE IN IN­TER­NA­TIONAL RE­LA­TIONS AND QUAL­I­FIED IN FOR­EIGN TRADE; ALL OF THEM YOUNG, ALL OF THEM WANT­ING TO CHANGE TO­GETHER WITH CUBA.

They wanted to try them­selves out as agents of their own busi­ness in a coun­try where there are al­ready more than half a mil­lion pri­vate work­ers and thou­sands of pri­vate en­ter­prises. That’s how AUGE was born in Oc­to­ber 2014. Af­ter al­most two years they proudly present them­selves with a port­fo­lio of more than 20 clients who have de­cided to place their trust in them to re­ceive busi­ness ad­vice.

The ven­ture be­gan with a four-month re­search for a first di­ag­no­sis of 128 pri­vate busi­nesses in Ha­vana. Be­tween the four they went to busi­nesses in Plaza, Playa and Old Ha­vana and de­voted them­selves to mak­ing “spy client” or “se­cret client” vis­its, a re­search tech­nique adapted to Cuba’s con­di­tions.

“We wanted to avoid be­ing taken for in­spec­tors, for ex­am­ple. We passed our­selves off as clients and used an ob­ser­va­tion guide to de­tect the busi­ness’s con­cept, if it did have one, its weak and strong points and made an ini­tial list of rec­om­men­da­tions for them.”

“Dur­ing those days,” they say, “we had no choice but to spend money from the lit­tle we had.” That was, let’s say, their seed cap­i­tal.

“Some­times we only asked for a cof­fee or we would share a small bot­tle of wa­ter. At oth­ers we would go with the story that we were or­ga­niz­ing a cel­e­bra­tion for our par­ent’s 50th wed­ding an­niver­sary, or the New Year’s Eve party of a sup­posed en­ter­prise for which we were work­ing. And then they would give us a great deal of in­for­ma­tion.”

In the end they got what they needed: a map to know where to start off and which doors to knock on to pro­vide their busi­ness ad­vice ser­vices.

There were many peo­ple who tried to dis­suade them. “The peo­ple here don’t know about mar­ket­ing,” they would tell them. “But we have ver­i­fied that the peo­ple do know and do un­der­stand.”

The ma­jor­ity of the clients com­prised al­ready es­tab­lished busi­nesses and asked for help to im­prove their work: from graphic de­sign so­lu­tions to the re-launch­ing of brand or re­pairs in their model. Oth­ers have sought out AUGE to make fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies, to or­ga­nize a con­cept, to pre­pare their birth.

“Now there is a will among the own­ers who per­ceive their needs and can pay for that type of ser­vices.”

Ev­ery­thing has changed. In the 1990s there were only a hand­ful of pal­adares in Ha­vana, which could only have 12 chairs. To­day there are more than 500 restau­rants in the cap­i­tal. Some are rather large and they com­pete with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. “We in AUGE have tried to build an of­fer that can be ac­cessed by these new en­trepreneurs.”

Up to now they gave pro­vided ser­vices to busi­nesses that are still pre­dom­i­nant in Cuba and that have more needs for shar­ing and es­tab­lish­ing their ad­van­tages: restau­rants, bars, cafe­te­rias, soft­ware de­vel­op­ment teams, spas, gyms.

“To­day we can sell AUGE’s ser­vices eas­ier than two years ago. Not only be­cause we have more ex­pe­ri­ence and we feel surer of our­selves, but also be­cause there is a greater need in the mar­ket for ap­ply­ing this type of knowhow.”

AUGE is a team that has al­ready sur­passed its four orig­i­nal mem­bers. “Our phi­los­o­phy is to give a com­pre­hen­sive ser­vice, but with­out try­ing to dis­play what we are not. When we need spe­cial­iza­tion in other ar­eas we seek pro­fes­sion­als.” AUGE cre­ates al­liances to re­solve prob­lems. There is al­ready in Cuba a net­work of busi­nesses that pro­vide pro­fes­sional ser­vices to other busi­nesses in the most di­verse ar­eas.

The ma­jor­ity of them have had to pre­pare the ground with dif­fi­cul­ties, with a re­stric­tive le­gal frame­work. Their work de­pends on highly valu­able tech­ni­cal and pro­fes­sional knowhow. At times their func­tions are not cor­rectly un­der­stood by the reg­u­la­tors.

“Those who de­cide to be en­ter­pris­ing play a pos­i­tive role in so­ci­ety. They are not nec­es­sar­ily peo­ple who are go­ing to get rich; they are not the em­bryo of heart­less cap­i­tal­ists. They are the ones who gen­er­ate ser­vice, sup­ply a prod­uct that’s not avail­able, gen­er­ate jobs, pay taxes and con­trib­ute to re­dis­tribut­ing wealth and to fi­nanc­ing the so­cial pro­grams that dis­tin­guish this so­ci­ety.”

The en­trepreneurs in Cuba need some fun­da­men­tal boosts: many more training ac­tions, mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of fi­nan­cial fa­cil­i­ties

and spa­ces for di­a­logue among them and with the author­i­ties. “Un­for­tu­nately to­day that di­a­logue ex­ists in very few places.”

“The sit­u­a­tion of the reestab­lish­ment of re­la­tions be­tween the United States and Cuba,” they say, “far from be­ing in­hibit­ing should pro­mote more the de­vel­op­ment of this sec­tor based on a se­ri­ous political will. The ex­press aim of the U.S. gov­ern­ment is to use pri­vate en­ter­prise as an agent of change, it should be an ad­di­tional in­cen­tive to fa­vor a sec­tor with an aware­ness of Cuba, per­sons who are pa­tri­otic and who un­der­stand their role in this so­ci­ety. The funny part is that these peo­ple ex­ist, there are many of them. You just have to con­tinue strug­gling with prob­lems, ob­sta­cles, sus­pi­cions….”

AUGE has the pos­si­bil­ity of help­ing to turn the dreams of oth­ers into ef­fi­cient, lasting re­al­i­ties. Last May they were rep­re­sented in the 7th An­nual Global En­trepreneur­ship Sum­mit held in Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia. To­gether with 10 other Cuban pri­vate en­ter­prises they got to know first­hand about ex­pe­ri­ences from all parts of the world. They were able to reaf­firm that un­der­tak­ing a busi­ness, un­der any cir­cum­stance, is dif­fi­cult. The thing is to fall in love with an idea – the bet­ter if it’s good – and not aban­don the ring in the first round.

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