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Payments Startup Stripe to Help Cuban Internet Startups Set Up Shop in the U.S.

For $500, Cuban entrepreneurs with global ambitions can get help setting up a U.S. business.

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Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Stripe, the high-profile Silicon Valley payments startup, has long said it wants to make it easier for entrepreneurs located in one part of the world to do business with customers based in another.

The next step along that path? Helping Cuban Internet startups with global ambitions to incorporate as a U.S. business and gain access to the U.S. banking system.

The foray into Cuba is an extension of a new program called Stripe Atlas aimed at giving overseas entrepreneurs easier access to the U.S. financial system, while funneling more international startups into Stripe’s core payment processing business where it makes the vast majority of its revenue.

It comes on the heels of President Obama’s easing of parts of the U.S. embargo against Cuba that had restricted Cuban citizens living in Cuba from earning money in the U.S. or opening a U.S. bank account.

Stripe CEO Patrick Collison said the expansion into Cuba came together quickly after White House officials recently visited with aspiring Cuban entrepreneurs who requested such a service.

“Banking and payments, and generally the movement of money, was extremely difficult for them,” Collison said, “and those are the primary impediments to a thriving ecosystem.”

Stripe will work with a Havana-based group called Merchise Startup Circle to help navigate the nuances of the Cuban startup scene and find businesses that would be a fit. The Atlas program is geared toward Internet businesses that want to sell to customers globally or in the U.S., secure investment from American investors or set up some sort of presence in the U.S.

For $500, Stripe will help Cuban businesses incorporate as a Delaware business, open a bank account and get some basic legal and tax consultations. The $500 price tag is a lot of money in some parts of world, but co-founder John Collison previously told Re/code that’s “deliberate” to make sure the program is attracting serious entrepreneurs who recognize “incorporating a company is a serious thing.”

The program in Cuba will face hurdles. Less than 5 percent of Cuban households have Internet access in their home today, and while the privatization of the economy has been happening, there’s a way to go.

But the government has said it wants 50 percent of households to have Internet access by 2020, which is one of the reasons Stripe thinks now is a smart time to start building relationships there.

“A majority of the world’s developers are in what we currently call emerging markets,” Patrick Collison said. “Companies that fail to take these markets seriously are really going to be left behind.”

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