Entrepreneurs

Why professionals in Cuba have gone start-up crazy

In the small Burner Brothers Bakery in downtown Havana, an engineer decorates cookies while a lawyer ices a cake. The co-owner of the bakery, Sandra Camacho Rodríguez, a dentist, greets customers.

Why would anyone trade a career, an office job, and a desk with a chair for a heated restaurant kitchen or hours spent standing as a hotel concierge?

Money.

Throughout Havana, engineers, lawyers, dentists, and other highly-skilled professionals have left their government careers to pursue un-glamorous, but more profitable, jobs in the private sector, many of them start-ups.

These shifts are part of a trend in the country in response to President Obama's relaxation of trade policies with Cuba, new policies from Havana, and the growth of entrepreneurship nationwide.

Sandra Camacho Rodríguez, a former dentist, is now a co-owner of the Burner Brothers Bakery in Havana.
Sandra Camacho Rodríguez, a former dentist, is now a co-owner of the Burner Brothers Bakery in Havana.

Serial entrepreneur and business strategist Marcus Lemonis explores the issue on a special episode of CNBC's "The Profit in Cuba."

Camacho, like most Cubans new to the private sector, is uncomfortable talking about her new salary. But she and her brother suggest that they make more in a few days than they previously did in a year.

"[The bakery's] steady flow of traffic told me what I wanted to know," Lemonis says. "I'd guess they were making at least $100 a day. Amazing, when you consider that most Cubans live off $300 a year."

Experts confirm the existence of the phenomenon.

"Many Cubans are quitting government jobs where they make less than $30 per month," says Richard Feinberg, author of Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy and senior fellow in the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institute.

"Jobs with gratuities can easily surpass $300 per month, 10 times what they earned in government ministries."

Bakers spoon out batter in the kitchen of Burner Brothers Bakery in Havana.
Bakers spoon out batter in the kitchen of Burner Brothers Bakery in Havana.

While the government may experience a brain-drain of highly educated workers, the economy will likely benefit.

"Raul Castro has made it easier for entrepreneurs, as the government needs the tax dollars to replace what was being subsidized by first Russia and then Venezuela," says Tom Hayes, dean of Xavier University's Williams College of Business.

Hayes has traveled to Cuba several times over the past few years.

"The Cuban people, like all of us, want the best for our families," he says.

Watch a special encore episode of CNBC's "The Profit in Cuba" tonight at 7PM/ET.