Ahead of President Obama's historic trip to Cuba next week, Silicon Valley payments upstart Stripe announced that it is helping Cuban entrepreneurs set up U.S. businesses.
The initiative lets foreign entrepreneurs incorporate U.S. businesses, obtain U.S. bank accounts and tax ID numbers, and, of course, set up a U.S. Stripe account to receive payments. The service, which costs $500 per business, will also give users access to tax advice from PwC along with legal advice.
The offering is part of Stripe's new Atlas program, which is a service for international entrepreneurs that debuted in February. Some Atlas services, such as credits for Amazon's cloud computing business, AWS, are unavailable to Cuban founders.
To recruit Cuban entrepreneurs for the program, Stripe is working with Merchise Startup Circle, a Havana-based startup incubator. The effort is part of a deluge of interest by U.S. companies in Cuba including airlines, hotels and other tourist interests following the loosening of trade restrictions.
Stripe, which was founded by brothers Patrick and John Collison, helps businesses accept nearly all forms of digital payments online. Its service has gained considerable traction and helped push the company into the top tier of startups known as unicorns that are valued at $1 billion or more.
Collison told Fortune that Atlas was originally unavailable in Cuba because of the trade sanctions. But in the past few weeks a White House official contacted Stripe about offering the service in the country.
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Stripe's plan for Cuban entrepreneurs comes at a time when U.S.-Cuban relations are thawing, potentially bringing U.S. and Cuba closer politically and economically than they have been in 50 years. Stripe explains that Atlas could be particularly helpful to Cuban entrepreneurs because there is no easy way to build an Internet business in the country.
Also, less than 4% of the country's population is online today. But despite these challenges, Stripe said that more than 70% of Cubans surveyed recently said they wanted to start their own business.
"Even Atlas is the same for all entrepreneurs, the impact in Cuba could be greater because it is essentially impossible for private individuals to incorporate a business in Cuba," Patrick Collison told Fortune. "We underestimate the extent of which there are savvy and sophisticated developers outside of the U.S. but many have been restricted in building businesses."