It wasn’t long ago that Israel was considered the Startup Nation, as technology firms grew from small private endeavors into globally used products and services. Just like the United States has its Silicon Valley, parts of Israel have become known as Silicon Wadi, because of its high concentration of cutting-edge technology companies. The technology sector there consists of respected universities and a breadth of talent that are linked together in a small geographical area where almost everyone knows one other, mostly through military service.
Unlike most entrepreneurial ventures, often people who embrace the challenge of building something bold in the quest for future prosperity, Israel’s is often based on necessity and inspired by military and security needs. Yet, there is still the inner need to build something life-changing, world leading, new and exciting. Now, there is another venture seeking to take that style of innovation and build a private next-gen city in a place that is conducive for it but has not seen the kind of growth that Israel and the United States has developed.
For those who are not in Silicon Valley or Wadi, there is a lush tropical island in the Caribbean seeking to become a bold new civic paradigm.
The place is built on the Próspera governance platform. And its goal is to become a mecca for brilliant founders, investors and engineers, but also with certain taxes and regulations that are beneficial to startups. The model is rooted in the belief that this community will generate more innovation, creating a positive feedback loop that attracts increasing numbers of ambitious individuals seeking the frontier of human achievement. It is similar to Israel’s innovators, but without the military drive.
Situated on the island of Roatan, Próspera’s flagship city is well positioned as a crossroads. It’s CEO, Erick Brimen, envisions St. John’s Bay as a Hong Kong of the Caribbean; a special economic zone that is good for the host nation as well as being a key component of the nearshoring movement that has been occurring more since coronavirus changes the way we all work.
At a recent fintech summit of leaders throughout the world, many different reasons were mentioned as having drawn entrepreneurs to this new tech city. For some it was the opportunity to implement web3 business concepts into everyday use, while others considered themselves citizens of the world and looked at St. John’s Bay as a headquarters for because of favorable economic conditions. The appeal of getting in at the ground floor of building a modern city and soaking in Caribbean vibes were also mentioned.
Rapidly developing industries like Fintech, DeFi and BioTech are set to generate immense wealth, and the jurisdictions that offer true partnership for innovative firms will be the ones who most benefit. With single digit effective taxes on personal and business income, The Próspera founders believes they have the right formula to unleash economic growth and empower its community to pursue their dreams.
Minicircle is a biotech company working on genetic therapies aimed at life extension similar to the work of Israeli tech firms and researchers at Bar Ilan University. After searching the globe for a jurisdiction that would enable them to launch clinical trials quicker, they chose St. John’s Bay as the most favorable environment for their efforts. It enabled Minicircle to launch a trial less than eight months after creating their legal entity, at 1/1000th the cost of a trial in the United States and less than the requirements Israel’s health ministry establishes. It gave them a more efficient path to market and a strategic advantage against competitors. Minicircle founder Mac Davis points out, “the value of a post-clinical company is exponentially higher than pre-clinical”, so there are significant timing and financial reasons this island of innovation made sense for them.
Another company that found its home in St. John’s Bay is Seshat Bank, which is now the city’s first full-service commercial bank. Seshat offers an open API for development, combining conventional bank offerings with customer-focused applications that tailor the banking capability to each customer. Seshat Bank CEO Sean Pawley had been an outside observer of the charter city space for a long time and chose this platform because it could be tailored to his vision.
The platform offers the choice of three regulatory frameworks for regulated industries. One of those options is for a business to propose its own unique framework to the governing council. Pawley leveraged his experience in financial regulation to create a custom option for his bank, and in April 2021 he began the process of setting up the bank and by January of 2022 the regulations were approved and Seshat became an active bank. It allows entrepreneurs to move at light-speed; something that isn’t always possible in overregulated areas.
This next-gen city is also working to facilitate the shift to digital currencies as part of everyday life. Bitcoin and other top tier cryptocurrencies are becoming the legal tender for any parties who mutually agree to do business in that currency. AmityAge Academy, a recently opened “Bitcoin Center” is a top attraction for visitors and island residents, teaching them about sound money principles and how to effectively use and store what the academy deems “the future of money”. The academy also makes a point of helping the local community, with initiatives to fund local Roatan schools via Bitcoin donations.
There are some very ambitious visions of Caribbean real estate being developed. Digital nomads who once thought of a warm, invigorating Mediterranean environment, can enjoy a similar tropical lifestyle. Sovereign individuals can embrace the distinctive brand of freedom found in a private city on an island, an ethos embraced by the city’s residents, and investors can take part in the unique opportunity for them to fund a next-gen city, and potentially realize exponential gains as that city grows.
It isn’t the answer for everyone, and it has it’s limitations. Yet, the St. John’s Bay project presents a compelling option for those looking to build, invest in, or work for groundbreaking projects on this beachside frontier. It will not replace Israel’s tech centers, nor will it usurp Silicon Valley, but the options and lifestyle can be compelling for many.