Top N.J. business leaders heading to Cuba on trade mission trip with N.J. Tech Council

The New Jersey Tech Council is planning a trip to Cuba for the state’s business leaders. – (THINKSTOCK)

At least a half-dozen top business leaders are scheduled to make a trip to Cuba in April to begin laying the groundwork to do business in Cuba — and bring business to New Jersey, New Jersey Tech Council CEO and President James Barrood announced Thursday morning.

“We’re on a mission to build relationships and build business connections,” Barrood said from Washington, D.C., where he is meeting with numerous congressional and governmental affairs representatives.

“This is a trip to help the business of New Jersey,” he said. “Plain and simple.”

The trip, scheduled for April 12-18, already includes seven prominent business leaders from the tech and life sciences sectors:

Greg Olsen — president, GHO Ventures (an investor in tech and energy companies)
Scott Megill — CEO and president, Coriell Life Sciences (life sciences)
James M. Golubieski — president, New Jersey Health Foundation (health care)
Monica Smith — chairwoman and founder, Marketsmith Inc. (digital marketing)
David Shulkin — CEO, Morristown Medical Center (health care)
Gene Waddy — CEO and founder, Diversant (IT staffing)
Venu Myneni — CEO and founder, Radiant Systems Inc. (software development)
Barrood, however, said he is expecting to add more business leaders — and would welcome them from any sector.

“How many companies are not involved in technology?” he joked.

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“The more leaders we have, the better. The group could be as big as 20-30 people. We have no qualms about having more people. And if not on this trip, on future trips.”

Barrood, who became the head of the Tech Council late last year, said he first got the idea more than a year ago, when he made a previous trip.

“I saw the potential back then, but you never knew when the politics would change,” he said.

Now that President Barack Obama has started the process of normalizing relationships, Barrood said, it’s important for New Jersey to be in position from the start because, he noted, things will not change overnight.

“We want to be respectful of the pace (Cuban officials) want to take,” he said. “It is still a very controlled country.”

And while Barrood notes the country’s infrastructure (from its electrical grid to its Wi-Fi reach) is behind in its need to handle advanced communications, he said its population is not.

“They are one of the most educated populations in the world, especially when it comes to STEM” — the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines — he said.

Barrood plans to meet with as many business, education and government leaders as possible. The goals, he said, are threefold.

“No. 1: We know this is going to take time, so it’s important to get in early and build those relationships,” he said.

“No. 2: We want to make sure when the country opens up and people can immigrate more freely, we want to make sure New Jersey is where they think to come to study and work and eventually open their own businesses.”

“And No. 3: New Jersey already has one of the biggest Cuban populations in the U.S.; we want to take advantage of that.”

While the trip does not currently include any Hispanic-led companies, Barrood is hoping that will change.

“We’re just announcing this, so we know there’s going to be a lot of interest,” he said. “We certainly are looking to get more business leaders over the next couple of weeks. And the more we can get from more diverse companies, especially Hispanic companies, would be great.

“We encourage that and welcome that.”

By Tom Bergeron,  NJBiz
February 12, 2015

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