Hey everyone. Ryan O’Shea here with Lifespan News, and welcome to the launch of Making Time. This is a series that has been in the works for a while now and that will feature long form interviews with interesting figures involved in topics that impact longevity science and our quest to help everyone live longer, healthier lives.
The goal is to make these conversational, informal, and largely unedited so that you get to hear from leaders in pioneers, from a variety of fields, in a way that goes beyond sound bites and talking points, and gets into the weeds and explores nuance and tangents in whatever comes up. Our first episode features Niklas Anzinger.
Niklas is the founder and general partner of the Infinita VC fund. Which seeks to support founders in overcoming regulatory bottlenecks by utilizing startup cities, network states, and crypto rails. Infinita is based in Próspera, the startup city in Honduras that Niklas also calls home. This conversation explores decentralization.
Web3 and network states, inhouse startup cities like Próspera, and pop-up cities like Zuzalu can help speed up innovation and advanced longevity science. We also discuss a new project that Niklas is working on, the creation of a longevity network state, and how you can get involved. Make sure to subscribe to Lifespan News so you don’t miss out on more videos such as this recent one from Emmett Short, critiquing the AI future envisioned by controversial longevity figure Bryan Johnson. And now, onto my interview with Niklas Anzinger.
You do so much with the Infinita VC fund and your podcast Stranded Technologies, and you are involved in this exciting, emerging world of network state and pop-up and startup cities like Próspera and Zuzalu. We’ll get into that a lot more in this interview, but first I wanna get into what is your focus and your mission, and how do your various roles and responsibilities fit into what you’re doing with all these hats you wear?
Hey, great, and thanks for having me on, Ryan. Really glad to be here. I very much appreciate the work of Lifespan.io. Yeah, let me tell you a bit of the origin story of Infinita VC. I kind of had two phases of my career. The first one was more on the idea side, more academia, public policy, think tanks, and management consulting. I was studying philosophy, economics. I worked on large infrastructure projects and things like that, but it didn’t feel dynamic enough to me, not hands on, not entrepreneurial and specifically not fast enough. I felt like I couldn’t expect things to change in the policy process, but I’ve thought a lot about it.
Then, the second part of my career, I went into technology and entrepreneurship, and I had some really cool runs at startups as an operator. I created a product that later raised a $36 million Series B. I learned in technology, entrepreneurship, things are much more fast-paced and changing. I could see how I could use that as a method to effectuate large-scale changes. It inspired me a lot. I went on to think, what’s going to be my big dent that I want to make in the universe, the biggest possible and ambitious mission I could go on. For about 1.5 to 2 years, I dabbled in various things, but I learned to my frustration that things, especially like healthcare – which was very present to me because of COVID – was really messed up in many ways that don’t seem fixable as an entrepreneur. With so many things that, that’s what you need solutions for. The problem is really policy. It’s specific barriers that are put up by public health institutions, by organizations like the FDA. That frustrated me a lot.
Then I got into the rabbit hole of seasteading, Scott Alexander, and rationalism, and I found out about Próspera. Scott Alexander wrote a fantastic article about it, and it talked about really fundamentally changing the legal operating system of society. It talked about regulatory flexibility, about insurance assessing regulatory and business risk, and about 3D property rights and air rights on the blockchain and things like that.
It’s like, this sounds so wild and fascinating, and this has to be too good to be true, I gotta check this out. Last year in April, I organized the first Build Próspera Summit. I wanted to bring some other people, some other entrepreneurs to see what it looks like and what’s going on there.
I was just amazed by the quality of the team and the community that they have built there. There are already a couple of really awesome entrepreneurs there. There’s a bank that’s using API access and also it’s crypto friendly, there’s a drone logistics company, there’s a construction tech startup, and also a gene therapy company called Minicircle that’s very well known in your circles that is using these regulatory advantages in Próspera – not no regulation, but better and a more flexible and more rational approach to regulation.
I think that key innovation just fascinated me so much that inspired me to pitch a VC fund that the first Próspera conference. It’s like, “Hey, we need to bring more entrepreneurs here in all of these overregulated sectors and like healthcare, but also hardware, drones, robotics, and also in the crypto and in the finance space, anything that sort, we see a lot of bottlenecks by the SEC in the place right now as well.”
Erick Briman, the [Próspera] CEO, said “That’s what we are thinking of as well, and we need someone to do it, so let me help you get it set up.” And so here I am now. Since then, I created Infinita VC, almost done raising the first fund and made the first eight investments in these three sectors that I mentioned, and I’m going around the world and organizing events in Próspera but also in Montenegro and in Zanzibar very soon. I’m producing a lot of content, my own podcast, because I want to kind of build a larger movement for more of these jurisdictions and more startups that see these kinds of advantages and utilize them to unleash a new wave of technological progress.
That was a great overview of everything I think we’re going to touch on in more detail in this conversation. I had to stop myself so many times from asking you to go into more details of any one thing. We’re going to get into all of that in this interview. I think one of the things that stuck out to anyone listening was how many different aspects and components of things are coming together to create these startup cities that we’re seeing. I’ve long been talking about the concept of combinatorial innovation, which is this idea that when silos get broken down and aspects of different technologies come together and converge cross-discipline and cross-domain, that’s really when we see things start taking off.
We need to break down those silos. Organizations like XPRIZE do a great job of incentivizing this and speeding this up with their prizes, and I think industries such as robotics are great examples of this, where you have the convergence of AI and hardware and sensors and software, and all of those have dozens of subcategories.
Biology is another one where we’re seeing biology converge with digital transformation and computer science to really become what I think is going to be a biological revolution that replaces and surpasses what the digital revolution was. We’re seeing the start of that now, and I think it’ll really come into fruition in the next few years.
That was all kind of a tangent – what I’m getting at is what you’re doing and working on with these cities that you’re working with is combinatorial innovation, and it’s not what you traditionally think of as technologies coming together to create a product, but it’s really the systems and structures coming together to create a whole ecosystem where that technology can be developed and can flourish. It’s creating those innovative, emerging technologies as a byproduct rather than as a direct result. This is the convergence of things like Web3 and DeSci and laws and regulation and governance and healthcare.
People spend their entire lives trying to master one of those domains and fail to do so, so it’s very interesting to see these pieces coming together. There’s so much primer and background knowledge that people would have to know to dive it deeply into these topics. We don’t have time to get into all of that, but as a quick, high level bit, what is this all about? What is a startup city? What’s a pop-up city? What is the network state? How would you best explain those to people who haven’t heard that concept before?
Let me start with the network state, because that’s an entry point from many people. They’ve heard about it. Balaji [Srinivasan] wrote this great book and it’s a highly aligned online community that develops in-person civility and crowd funds, physical territory to eventually gain diplomatic recognition.
What I typically do is I put this into context and I say, “Look, this is a new idea in an existing space – the space I would call competitive governance.” I think for me, the starting point with Patri Friedman, there’s been of course a longer history ever since Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, but those weren’t serious projects before seasteading. Maybe I’m doing injustice to some of the people that did it, but they were definitely not successful.
I think the direct line to network states is from seasteading to charter cities to network states. So seasteading was the first attempt. Governments own all the territory in the world; we need to go where they’re not. That didn’t work, or it might still work in some small areas, but cost is a big reason, and also the legal autonomy isn’t what you would wish for. Then, the movement moved on to charter cities, which has been much more successful. I think right now is actually a great inflection point.
The idea is that you work together with governments in partnership using the special economic zone model. So think trends in China, think Dubai, think to some degree Singapore or Hong Kong, and kind of supercharged economic development, which governments ultimately also benefit from in the form of taxes and in the form of greater wealth for their population.
I think it’s a great model, and that’s sort of the model that Próspera is also based on. The challenge with the model is it has very high barriers to enter, your upfront costs. Próspera required like 10 years of foregoing experience and government engagements, very deep expertise and legal, the ability to raise large amounts of capital, although not as large as you’d think.
Próspera started with a few million and started buying a few barren rocks but was also very lucky getting the Honduran ZEDE legislation, which is one of the best if not the best in the world. It’s very high upfront costs and a lot of resources required. Balaji largely saw that and it was like, “Hey, why don’t we flip the model on its head?”
We don’t start with the full stack, with government partnerships, with legal, with regulatory, with real estate and land footprint, and then build community – we flip the model in its head, we first built community. A good example is Afropolitan. They have a community of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, diaspora Africans who are united in their mission to provide better governance for Africans around the world.
You have the community first, and that community gives you leverage. You can go with a couple of thousand, tens of thousands of people, to existing governments and say, “Hey, we bring talent, we bring activity, why don’t you give us a place where we have the degree of legal autonomy we need?”
It’s an innovation and an iteration on the strategy. I think these two models are out there and they coexist, but I think these are sort of the strategies that we see right now that many of these projects pursue. The network state idea is newer and less proven, but Afropolitan and Praxis are great examples that I think have a very good shot at very sustained success in their field.
It’s also attracting a bigger movement, sort of the crypto and tech communities. I think that’s great for this space. That’s exactly what the charter cities movement also needs because it’s a space that has a lot of experience, a lot of credibility. It knows how to negotiate with governments and get infrastructure, but that hasn’t yet spawned a bigger movement.
With Zuzalu, with Montenegro, with Vitalik Buterin, with the book The Network State, now we’re at a point where we have a chance to make this a bigger movement that’s getting more talent from the crypto and from the tech space.
Because you also ask about Zuzalu, there’s kind of an adjacent category – co-living and pop-up cities. You could say they’re the same, or they’re a bit different. Pop-up cities like Black Rock City, Burning Man, and Zuzalu and Montenegro. How would it look like to have an impermanent structure somewhere that we set up?
I’m happy to talk more about Zuzalu. I think it was a key innovation in that space, and that there’s a lot to learn from that. But the other adjacent category to network states and charter or startup cities is also co-living. Cabin or Cohere, these are not requiring a high degree of legal autonomy. They’re using existing jurisdictions to realize moral innovations from like the crypto Web3 space around ownership, around how to live together. These are also part of the same movement.
Yeah, I think that was a great overview explanation, and there are so many different resources for people to learn more about this. You mentioned the book the Network State, or Balaji has a great eight-hour podcast, or Lex Fridman’s podcast going into this. There’s so many resources out there to learn more, and I will put those in the show notes and description.
You also mentioned some specific other projects that are happening, whether they’re the co-living spaces, the pop-up cities, startup cities. You recently put out a great ecosystem map visual graphic that represents the different categories and the different players within those categories. I will link that in the show notes as well.
I think that’s a great way for people to see what exactly is happening in that space, but it also made me think there are a lot of options out there, a lot of areas for people to go to get involved with this. How did you end up at Próspera, what is special about that or what spoke to you specifically about what’s happening there?
Yeah, so Próspera is the most advanced project in the field. It is the zero to one. It’s open for business. Anyone can go there and join, become a resident or an e-resident, and it’s already very successful at attracting businesses. It has 130 registered businesses and has created 1,100 direct and indirect jobs.
There’s a lot to learn from the success. Now, we really have a template for other projects like that to emulate. That’s why I think it’s the most important success story to get right, especially right now because it’s politically challenged by the current Honduran government.
Last year, Honduras changed the government. Right now, the government is hostile, but Próspera has very good legal cards dealt, and they’re right now winning on that front. But it’s still very important for people to focus on Próspera and helping make it succeed, because if we don’t make it succeed, that will set back the space for a couple of years, I think.
What attracts me about Próspera is that I think it’s, right now, the most important point ro rally behind and it already delivers on what I want to see, which is these regulatory innovations and advantages. I think that’s what is the most to learn from, but ultimately, Próspera can’t succeed on its own.
We need more projects like that in more countries and more jurisdictions to prove the model, to make it more credible, to make it more legitimate. Like any of these things, like longevity and biotech as well, you start a bit on the fringes, like, “Hey, can we really achieve immortality?” but then you make it more credible, more mainstream. You build products that people can use to deliver actual benefits, and this way you enter a larger audience or a larger market, which should also be the goal for startup cities and states.
You mentioned longevity and life extension there. That’s obviously somewhere where my focus is and a lot of my attention goes, though I’m interested in emerging science and technology in general. Tthere are a lot of startups from various industries in Próspera. You have robotics. You have FinTech, you have these various things, but, of course, healthcare is a major part of that, and within healthcare and medicine, longevity is a major part of that. What’s the relationship now between Próspera and the longevity community? You mentioned Minicircle. Are there other companies working in this space?
I think Próspera is ideal for the longevity community to engage with because of that system of regulatory flexibility. We know you face extensive and lengthy FDA approvals and bureaucracy for new drug development, and for giving therapies to people, in Próspera, Minicircle has been really the trailblazer, a gene therapy company. They’re doing early-stage clinical trials with a stem cell clinic led by American physicians that have an IRB, meaning they’re authorized by the FDA to conduct early-stage clinical trials.
They’re keeping everything the same and even better when it comes to the safety of the clinical trials and the oversight. The only thing they can cut on is the bureaucracy, so they can reduce the cost to the second-best option by like 90, 95%, 99% compared to the United States, which is fantastic because that gives them a much greater amount of pipeline. Minicircle will very likely continue clinical trials in other jurisdictions in the United States to get approval in larger jurisdictions to bring their drugs to market.
The second advantage is medical tourism. A man by the name of Greg Nakagawa, a very seasoned, very experienced biotechnology entrepreneur with several successful exits is starting to build a regenerative medicine hub in Próspera to bring more clinicians, more doctors to set up clinics there and provide therapies that are very advanced, that are otherwise very hard to get, very expensive, or it just takes too long to get approval.
In our communities, we have a lot of PhDs. We know the science behind it, and we don’t need to prove it for like 10 years, so we can read the studies that give us enough confidence or give us enough risk awareness to recommend these things within our community or to do them to us. That’s a massive opportunity for the longevity community to use Próspera as a hub for that.
Let’s get into more specifics about some of the regulations there and why pop-up cities and startup cities are needed. I heard a podcast with you where you had said that sometimes you wake up at night thinking about how regulation is stifling innovation, and I’d love to hear a little bit more about that.
In the United States, we have regulatory agencies like the FDA who are big in this space. Some people love them, some people hate them. It’s clear that they are impacting innovation in some way. What are your thoughts on institutions like this and how does Próspera handle the questions of regulation?
I’m actually thinking about writing a book right now, and the tagline is, “I want to move away from regulatory monopoly to regulatory pluralism.” The solution isn’t no regulations. The solution is a different approach to regulations. The key idea behind Próspera is that insurance is assessing business risk and regulation because they have an incentive. They don’t want you to mess up because otherwise they need to pay, but they also don’t want you to not be able to do anything.
They have the best incentive to provide more rational regulations and foster a competitive market for it. Some insurers want to say “This regulation has been tried and tested in so many other countries that give you very low premiums for it.” But if you think that’s not good enough for you, you want to have a more innovative approach to the regulation that your business is under, you can propose that in the Próspera council and get approval for it. You need insurance to agree with it. Of course, you might need to have to pay higher premiums for it because the insurance says we have to make more risk assessments or invite more experts to assess this.
This can lead to a competitive market that delivers on the efficiency gains that we see in many other areas where we have competitive markets as opposed to regulatory monopolies like the FDA. The problem with the FDA isn’t necessarily the safety regulations. Safety regulations are good. Many of these regulations are fine, and they should go to safety testing, through animal tests and through human trials.
The problem is the incentives around it and the bureaucracy that’s the result of these incentives. The FDA gets the downside if something goes wrong when they release a bad drug to the market, and even that happens too often, but they don’t get the upside if they’re fast and if the drug ends up saving people’s lives. That’s the massive incentive problem of organizations like the FDA.
I think that book idea sounds great. I look forward to reading that when it comes out. That’s something I’m very interested in, and I think we saw a lot of the shortcomings with the traditional regulatory process during the COVID-19 pandemic and how that was very quick to get things to market in relation to historical things, but really it was slower than it needed to be and could have been. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to improve things there.
A lot of my background is talking about human augmentation and especially biohacking-type human augmentation, self-directed evolution. What I always bring up in my talks is that there are two very divergent paths whan it comes to regulation. We could strictly regulate everything. Make sure it goes through clinical trials, make sure it’s proven “safe and effective” – whatever we determine that means – and in that case, things will be safe. When they are made available, they will be extremely expensive and they will not be available to many people.
Or, we can make it completely democratized. People can make and sell and insert and do whatever they want from licensed doctors or not from whatever organization they want. Things will come to market very quickly. Innovation will speed up dramatically. It will also be very dangerous, and you don’t know what you’re getting.
There’s, of course, a middle path there, and that’s what we need. I agree with your idea of pluralism there. I would love for a company to be able to come out with a drug or an augmentation which is not tested on humans in any way, and if you want to use that and you know that it’s not tested, you should have the ability to do so. But, there should be numerous consumer organizations existing saying that, “Yes, this particular project meets our requirements so they get our stamp of approval.”
I think that’s a great way to go about this, which kind of splits the difference there. It leaves bodily autonomy and the freedom of association out there and doesn’t stifle that innovation, but also gives people a safe path to have the level of regulation they want. Perhaps there’s some people out there that want stricter regulations than the FDA currently advises, and they should be able to do that too.
Exactly. The example I always give is, what if you have like four different FDAs, one is like the current one or even a more conservative one that’s testing for 10, 15 years, and another one is really fast tracking, like they test for a year or something like that. And then your doctor can look at that and say, “Here, it really got this faster approval. Here’s what we know. Here’s what the science says.”
Now, with AI, you can get that information also much better and much easier and much faster. “Here’s the risk you should know about. It’s your decision to take it or not.” That would be kind of an ideal or better scenario.
Health is just very important and people feel very uncomfortable using things that haven’t been tested before. Something is in your body, it’s just very scary, so people want safety. They want oversight and they want these companies to be liable if they mess it up or if they make fraudulent claims or something like that. It’s good to have a system like that, but right now the kinds of provisions we have in place are just simply very inefficient and ineffective in some ways – and I might also add deeply immoral.
There is a fantastic book by Jessica Flanagan, also on my podcast, Stranded Technologies episode four, that’s called Pharmaceutical Freedom. It poses that ethical question that if we take the norm of informed consent seriously, then why are we not allowing people to take drugs that they think are right for them.
The example that I like to give is Steve Jobs and cancer treatment. Steve Jobs had cancer and there were treatments available that might have cured him, but he said, no, I don’t want that, I want natural treatments. Would anyone say it’s justified by the doctor to force the treatment on Steve Jobs, even though there might be good arguments, it would be very good for society? Steve Jobs is one of the most productive members in human history, so there are massive positive externalities for society.
No, people would say Steve Jobs has the right to make a bad decision for his life. Why do we not have a right to make bad decisions for our bodies? We make bad decisions all the time when we choose to stay on the couch and eat potato chips while playing video games. We choose bad life partners. We do very risky things like climbing Mt. Everest.
Why don’t we allow that for drugs? Not only would that be ethically better or more permissible, it would also lead to a more efficient and even safer system when it comes to allowing new drugs to the market.
I agree, but let’s get into why these charter cities you think would be necessary. Do you think that it’s possible to reconfigure existing governments to have this mentality? Is it realistic to abolish the FDA in the United States and go towards a more open, privatized regulatory structure, or do we need to expand beyond that now at this point?
Yeah, that’s a great question. When it comes to convincing existing governments, we’ve made tons of progress. I had Patri Friedman on my podcast, who’s been a pioneer in the space for two decades or more, and he said for the first time in the history that he’s spent in this space there is a mismatch of available government deals and entrepreneurs willing to do it.
There are more governments willing to do it right now than entrepreneurs who will fill in the spots. There’s several governments in, in Latin America, in Africa, potentially Montenegro and several others in Asia as well, that are willing to do that because it’s been a successful development model for China, for Dubai. It creates positive externalities for these governments and for these countries.
That gives me a lot of hope also with the zero to one, with the success case of Próspera. But again, we have to prove it out. We have to make sure that we show what we do, and the medical front is as safe or even safer than the existing standard, while more innovative and more efficient.
We need to be very conscious and very diligent when it comes to the ethics of it and in our transparency. We need to be able to very confidently show what we’re doing. “Hey, we take safety and ethics very seriously, even moreso than in other existing jurisdictions.” I think then we do have a real chance to influence policy in existing jurisdictions or governments.
I’m not sure the FDA will ever be overhauled in my lifetime, but I think I can think of a couple of very agreeable proposals that could move the needle a lot. For example, what if the FDA allows medical reciprocity. If it’s allowed in this list of 10 different jurisdictions like Japan or Germany or Norway – regulators we have a lot of trust in – it’s also allowed here. That would be tons of progress already.
If you have that, then you are also not so far away from saying, “Hey, you could also do it like you do it here in Próspera, and then you kind of have more legal options.” I think many people within the FDA are also aware that efficacy trials are where the inefficiency comes from. They’re like two thirds of the cost, right? Maybe it’s something more agreeable to have fewer requirements around efficacy trials. That doesn’t seem to me to be a crazy proposal.
Or right-to-try laws. There is an active patient rights movement in the United States since the 80s, since HIV, since the FDA basically killed people, HIV patients, by withholding lifesaving drugs from them. There has been some progress in right to try legislation, and that could go even further. My hope is not super high to change it through the existing process in the United States until you have a lot of positive examples from other countries to show.
I think that can really give the reformers inside the United States or in other jurisdictions like the UK the fuel to make their case. The UK is actually an example. The UK has allowed human challenge trials, which are also something that, from an ethical point of view, should be commonsensically available and would make the system much more efficient. That is already tremendous progress and shows there’s hope also on the reform side as well.
Yeah, when I mentioned the changes that could have been made to speed things up during Covid 19, I was specifically thinking of the example of challenge trials. I think that’s absolutely something that should have been rolled out in the United States and that was a missed opportunity there.
It’s clear that we could spend an entire podcast episode talking about these topics. We’re both clearly interested in them, but one other aspect of this I’ll bring up is under the current system where something has to be proven safe and effective, there’s a certain benchmark percentage of cases it has to work in. There are certainly drugs that have been made, tested and denied, that would save people today but they’re not going to save everyone, so they’re not approved.
I think as we move more towards personalized medicine and perhaps eventually AI understanding your biology enough to know that this is the molecule that will help that treatment for you, maybe not anyone else, but for you, we’re going have to get around these traditional systems that would not let molecules like that come to market because they don’t work for 10 people, they only work for 7 people or something like that.On the note of longevity and life extension, what is your personal take on this industry? I guess that’s a two-part question. One is, as an investor yourself, what do you think of this emerging market and where it’s headed? And what do you as an individual think about longevity and life extension? Is it something that you’re thinking about today? Are you making decisions to try to extend your life, and what does that look like?
Yeah, so I’m a bit bipolar on the issue. Yes, I’m absolutely bullish on it from an investor perspective. When it comes to my personal life, a bit less, and the reason is that I always was living very healthy. So maybe I don’t have the level of awareness that others have.
I also think there’s a bit too much of a hype around preventative health, especially when you’re young. I think many experienced doctors are saying there’s something to be said about fixing things when they’re wrong, because there’s too many things to prevent for. I do think there is something to be said for very easy, low-cost interventions that can be preventative as well, I’m not against preventative interventions, but when it comes to my personal life decisions, I try to live healthy.
I just cut processed foods and sugar for my diet, for example. That is great. I am, from an investor perspective, very, very bullish on longevity, especially when it comes to the direct development and treatment side. I think Bryan Johnson is great. He expands human frontiers and boundaries when it comes to personal health and longevity, but the whole point is to make that easier to access for people. He wouldn’t even disagree with that.
I had a debate with him at a private Próspera conference. We do want better drugs and better treatments that give you the same effects faster. Of course, there’s no magic pill, but if we have just much faster iteration times for longevity biotech together with computational biology, with AI, with synthetic biology, we connect tremendous progress in the field.
Before I did the VC fund, before I found out about Próspera, I wasn’t that involved with longevity. But given my focus on the regulatory side and everything that I learned about Covid and the medical system, it turned out to be the field with the highest level of urgency and alignment because it’s just very obvious.
Not only do you have the problem of the direct development pipeline, you also have a problem of even funding basic research. That’s why you have the decentralized science movement and VitaDAO, because aging is not considered or recognized as a disease, so it’s harder to get early-stage funding for that.
From the longevity community, there’s a very high degree of urgency. There’s a massive goal that’s very credible given the science and this technology that we have. I am longevity pilled, and I’m convinced and very hopeful that what we found about the hallmarks of aging and Yamanaka factors credibly provides some pathways to fundamentally halt or even reverse aging and make us fundamentally live longer.
That’s been a massively interesting learning journey thanks to people like Sebatian Brunemeier, who’s been in my podcast, or Laurence Ion from VitaDAO. I felt we built a lot of alignment and influenced each other a lot in our thinking about sort of using special jurisdictions, using network states to expand different tiers of longevity in biotechnology.
That’s the state that I’m at right now. I focus a lot of my investment activity on longevity biotech, and I’m initiating an attempt to form a longevity network state using special jurisdictions, maybe like Montenegro. My proposal would be to do it in Latin America in three to four different jurisdictions, but I’m very excited to move that topic forward.
Yeah, I definitely want to get into that some more. Talk about this longevity network state. What’s that look like? What is your role in putting this together, and what goals do you have for this? Describe that program a little bit.
The starting point is, as we discussed, that the way things are right now, it’s just too slow, iteration times, and too high cost for longevity biotech to succeed. If it takes 10 to 15 years to get new drugs to the market, the momentum that we have right now – right now, we have good funding, we have narrative power, It’s very exciting, it’s a big goal – but if you don’t deliver products that convince people to take them and that deliver positive benefits, then we’ll run out of steam.
I don’t want that to happen, so I think we need to look for ways to innovate faster. We need to look for different places where we can do our innovations. We don’t necessarily need to all move to places, but we can use places like Próspera that have better regulatory options, and as in the case of Minicircle shows, allows you to do faster clinical trials, you can do medical tourism, you can do biopharmaceutical production and development and things like that. So my proposal is to not decide on one location because that’s a single point of failure.
You always have political trade-offs, too many things out of the Overton Window. You eventually have to tone down on them. Próspera gets hit pieces just for having Minicircle, so that’s just very hard for them to say yes to everything, just from a PR perspective.
Also, to build a diversified, modern industry, you need to be specialized. To build that fast, I think we should look at jurisdictions that have an existing medical infrastructure. Próspera is the best choice when it comes to the legal stack and autonomy, but doesn’t necessarily have existing infrastructure for clinical trials, medical tourism, things like that.
My proposal was, let’s look at some other Latin American countries that I believe could have some of the factors that we want. I made a list together with ChatGPT, where looked like things like, “Does it have other special economic zones just like Honduras?” They exist in Uruguay and Panama and Costa Rica.
Does it have spending on medical tourism, which speaks to the trust people put in the brand of the country? Costa Rica, for example, is a popular brand for medical tourism. People trust it and go there. It has very good governance.
Is there VC funding? Are there entrepreneurs? Are there startups? Because it’s one of my core beliefs that we need to have a strategy that’s mainly locally driven. We do want to have a couple of entrepreneurs that built there that come from our communities, but they work together with local talent. I think that’s the strategy that made Próspera succeed, and we need it for other jurisdictions.
I made a list of like six countries. So Honduras obviously because of Próspera and also Ciudad Morazan, another startup city. Puerto Rico because it’s advantageous for Americans. There’s a crypto community, my friend Sebastian Brunemeier is there, of course, so it has a VitaDAO presence.
The others will be Uruguay, which has existing biopharmaceutical zones. It has also a history of good governance, similar to Costa Rica and Panama with existing infrastructure for clinical trials in medical tourism. I propose we do a journey for two months together with 40 to 50 entrepreneurs from our community that are willing and open to start something new and move to one of these places.
Could be medical tourism, could be drug development, could be on the financing or funding side of things, but if we develop like three or four hubs where we have like three to five entrepreneurs each that start companies and build a local ecosystem that’s interconnected, and we do like a mini Zuzalu each year for like one month in one of these locations so we have enough of an in-person kind of cohesion.
We could do all our hiring in that fundraising in that one month, and people like Vitalik [Buterin] could come so it gets brand recognition and attention and things like that. I think that could be a good strategy for making longevity biotech work.
I also think it’s very exciting because these Latin American countries are just wonderful. They have very rich cultures. They’re just progressing massively. When it comes to innovation, when it comes to VC, when it comes to startups. They’re very affordable. They’re very nice, very beautiful.
Spanish is relatively easy to learn, and all of these countries that I mentioned are very safe. I think that’s a very exciting kind of journey we could take, and I’m looking to put this together. I would love to put a link in the show notes where people can sign up and indicate interest. They don’t need to commit yet.
Absolutely. I think people listening to this interview here would be the exact type of people that would be great candidates to participate in something like that. I am so excited about the idea of a longevity network state. You could say that things like VitaDAO are existing quasi-examples of that, but the fact that you are putting this as the goalpost that you’re directing towards, I think is absolutely incredible, and I thank you for putting that together and I look forward to following the progress there and seeing what comes of it. I think we’ll be covering that a lot more in the coming months and years, so thank you for putting that together.
We’ve mentioned it many times now – Zuzalu – let’s get a little bit more about that. I understand you spent some time there. What happened here? What was that all about?
Yeah, so Laurence Ion invited me and I had to juggle a bit between sort of running some conferences in Próspera and Zuzalu. And boy, did I have FOMO that I couldn’t spend the entire two months there. I spent a total of one month there.
Zuzalu, I think, was a major innovation in the space, and the major innovation is that it proved that with 100 to 200 people that come from a highly aligned online community, you can develop an exciting sparkling in-person civility. You don’t need the density of a city with millions of people. With people like us, with very niche interests, you might have 1% or 0.1% of people that are into that, so you want to be in the same city. Zuzalu has proven you can bring them to the same place, like 100, 200 people, and you get the same effect.
You get people running into each other in corridors talking about synthetic biology, about longevity, about the newest cryptographic tech, and start doing things together and start forming bonds and friendships that sustain themselves after. I think in that sense, Zuzalu was a major success and it also proved a model that we could use further.
100-200 people, 2-3 months. We can do that in other places to develop the kind of density that we need to do the kinds of projects that we’re thinking about in other locations. I was very happy and proud to have been a resident, or still am, of the community and of Zuzalu.
I organized a couple of conferences there, longevity and special jurisdictions. I did a D&D session. I organized a karaoke. The hikes were super fantastic and amazing, the cold plunges, and they also did like the first conference that were bringing together this new cities and urbanism crowd together with the network state, the tech, the crypto crowds.
It really felt like a foundational moment in the great validation that this is really an inflection point for us as a movement that makes it feasible to achieve these great goals and ambitions that we have.
I agree that it’s an inflection point, and I think one of the major benefits of it was the press attention or attention in general outside of the community. This event got more people aware of this happening and interested in this happening.
It seems like something new and exciting now that many of us have been talking about for years, but now it’s starting to enter the consciousness of people beyond the DeSci and longevity communities, and I think that’s extremely exciting.
Vitalik Buterin was very involved in Zuzalu, and is very well known in the longevity and crypto and DeSci space. What relevance does he have to this movement? Is he involved in it? Where does Web3 and DeSci fit into this overall?
Yeah, crypto as a whole, Satoshi Nakamoto and Vitalik Buterin as some of the great thinkers of our time have been blazing the trail and showing us what’s possible to change existing institutions in very deep and meaningful ways.
I always like to make the comparison, so now it’s within our reach and it’s possible to have a decentralized financial system and free banking and private money, basically. Satoshi Nakamoto showed us it’s possible. Before, you had academic critics that would say, “Hey, the system right now doesn’t work. We need to do something else.” but there was just no way for entrepreneurs to do anything about it. Even if you had great technology, it would all hinge on approvals.
With Bitcoin, you have this permissionless, decentralized system that is putting the technology, the product, in people’s hands without asking anyone for approval, then showing it works and then growing by adoption.
I think the crypto and the blockchain space has been blazing the trail. There’s always hope, and I think that also attracts people like Vitalik Buterin or the decentralized science community to longevity, to health, and to biotech because it’s basically the same situation that money was in before Satoshi Nakamoto.
We’ve just become so used to a system of entrenched interests where it’s pointless to think about new alternatives, because that’s academic. You spend a lot of time reading books, writing papers about that. The only way to get money for that is by being in academia and there’s been public choice theory and economists, et cetera, that have been doing great work, but there was just no way for entrepreneurs to do something about it.
What decentralized science and VitaDAO are now doing is opening up that area of innovation. There are decentralized ways through funding, through crypto rails, through DAOs that create sort of that blue ocean, that wide space for people to innovate in decentralized ways to tackle some of these problems that affect the real world, in biology and longevity and biotech. That’s why they are naturally looking for how we can realize that innovation in the real world.
I think that’s why that movement is ultimately moving from crypto to DeSci to network states as kind of the connective tissue to bring sort of the on-chain, the crypto innovation, to the real world.
Yeah, I think Web3 and DAOs, like VitaDAO, for example, are great ways for people to get involved in the network state and maybe make their way towards a physical presence in a place like Próspera or participating in your longevity network state, because it’s a way to become a part of this community without necessarily yet changing your physical location.
I think taking advantage of the breakdown of the geographic barriers that are made possible through technology of today is a great way to get involved in these communities and have a stake in the game when it comes to these things without actually leaving the country where you currently are.
Lifespan.io, for example, is very involved in DeSci with partnerships with VitaDAO and working with Gitcoin through their quadratic funding funding mechanisms and grant rounds, which are of course the brainchild of and really supported by Vitalik and others in the community. So I think this is a great way for all of us to work together with DeSci and Web3 to boost up these decentralized projects and see where they can take us.
You’re doing more similar conferences to what you did at Zuzalu. You mentioned doing summits at Próspera. You had the Health Tech Summit in 2022, Supercharging Health in 2023. Who comes to these things? What happens there, and are there any coming up that people should plan on attending?
The ones that are coming up, one is not in Próspera, it’s in Zanzibar on Tanzania on July 20 to 23. We focus there on African cities, new governance, technology and crypto. That’s spawned out of Zuzalu as a direct result of it, and we do it together with our friends from Threefold who’ve been amazing contributors to Zuzalu and to the conference that are organized, and they are starting basically a new kind of Próspera in the free zone in Tanzania.
They’re a massively positive new addition to the movement, and Africa will generally be very important for the movement in the coming years. Much of the efforts of the Charter Cities Institute are focused there. We have new projects in Nigeria and Zambia, in Malawi and in Tanzania, so I’m very excited about that.
Back in Próspera, I want to do many things in October and November, although we’re figuring out dates because we want to coordinate it together with Zuzalu as well. What’s definitely going to happen is eth.m in Honduras on October 26th to 28, so that is a super great opportunity for the country.
My plan is to do afterwards a mini Zuzalu in Próspera, like a Próspera Builders camp, where we spent like four weeks together maybe with about a hundred people to do something similar. So we want to run two conferences there, crypto X futurism, and another one on DeSci and longevity. I can leave a link out to a Telegram group where I’ll be announcing it, but the dates for that are not definitive yet.
For the past conferences, I’m very happy and excited that most of the attendees were Honduran. About 50%. I think there is a dormant scene for technology and entrepreneurship in Honduras. Tthere are entrepreneurs. It’s a country with 10 million people. Talent is roughly evenly distributed, but there’s not been a single institutional VC investment in the country, so I’m going to be the first one.
I’m going to announce the investment soon. It’s in the health tech startup, not biotech, more on the telehealth side. I want that to be a positive signal for the country, because in the end, projects like Próspera succeeding so fast creates positive externalities for the country of Honduras and for locals there.
My focus is really on supercharging or helping Honduran entrepreneurs to succeed. The other hub is international entrepreneurs. Sometimes, some are from our communities, from longevity, others from the crypto community that are attracted to it for the same reasons that I’m attracted to it or that Minicircle is attracted to it, on the regulatory side and also to see what’s possible when it comes to pushing the boundaries of human liberty.
Obviously, we want to create a place that has a higher degree of personal autonomy and freedom and liberty. These are typically attendees of the conferences. They’re typically relatively small and intimate, 20 to 40 guests. It’s more a conference style, so a lot of opportunity to organize yourself and the last day is always a pitch competition. We had a total of 48 pitch competitions thus far, and several businesses that came out of these pitch competitions are now active in Próspera or using Próspera as a launchpad from other places around the world, or new initiatives that people started in their own countries.
I think we need to address some of the potential controversy or, or misconceptions that some people have around places such as this. I think a good example of that is I knew and interviewed for my podcast, Aaron Traywick before he passed away, who was kind of a controversial figure in the medical or biohacking communities.
Some of the criticism of him is that he used the word “cure” when it wasn’t appropriate and was potentially charging people to leave the United States for medical tourism to get these unproven treatments, perhaps in hopes that it would “cure” any of their ailments. Now there’s some of that criticism that also levied at potentially places like Próspera.
What is the regulation to keep things like that from happening? How can we make sure that people aren’t being taken advantage of if they’re desperate? What structures are in place to prevent those types of things? What are your thoughts on the morality and ethics of doing clinical trials that are providing treatments in places such as Próspera?
On one hand, I understand the radicalism of some people in the biohacking space because I think personal autonomy to make even bad decisions on unproven treatments are justified the same as it is for taking recreational drugs. I don’t think we should wage a war on drug users by putting hundreds of thousands of people in prison and destroying their lives and destroying much of Latin America by creating an illegal industry and drug cartels through drug prohibition.
I think that’s a massive injustice and deeply unethical by the existing system and the establishment. I can understand where people from that space are coming from and the radicalism and impatience. That said, when you’re out of the Overton Window or at the fringes, that also invites fraud and scam and shady figures.
I think it couples the most innovative and minds that you can find anywhere, but you need to watch out because people are looking to exploit the most free and the most high trust environments. This is why I think it’s very important to have self-regulations and to have very strong ethical guidelines and to be just very aware that we are policing our space in a way that can be justifiable also to the rest of the world.
That’s why I said before, when it comes to things like safety, we should be as good or better than the existing standards, and we should be very meticulous in making sure to document it because we have a very high degree of responsibility. I can’t comment specifically on Aaron. I’ve never met him, but you know when you have a PR disaster that’s setting back the space.
That is just a risk you put on the rest of the community. If something goes wrong, if someone gets hurt or someone dies, even if their reason for doing so was their own choice and was justifiable, whatever, you need to make extra, extra, extra sure, because if we haven’t made it sure, then that harms the rest of the community and destroys the legitimacy of credibility in the eyes of the rest of the world. The goal is not to stay on these fringes. The goal is to make it more mainstream and make it acceptable, and make it proven and make it something that the rest of the world can also use.
You mentioned drug laws there as an example. What level of autonomy does a place like Próspera have in transforming laws like that for those within its jurisdiction? I mean, I, for example, am completely in favor of the abolition of existing drug laws. I think they should be legal to use. Can that be made legal in Próspera or what limitations exist within what you’re working with?
Yeah. Recreational drugs are unfortunately not possible because the limiting factor for Próspera is Honduran criminal law. Honduran criminal law is for the most part fine, but it doesn’t allow recreational drugs. I would also love if that was possible, but currently it isn’t, unfortunately. When it comes to drug approvals, again, it’s sort of the system of regulatory pluralism that I described before.
How it works in detail is, you basically have three options. The easiest is just to accept common law, legal liability, in which case you are technically not regulated or you’re not regulated by an agency or an explicit set of regulations, but you are regulated by common law.
Common law is punishing you for fraud and is holding you liable in case something happens and you were to blame for it. Actually, the punishments under common law are quite harsh. Under Próspera common law, you would pierce the corporate veil, so you’re personally liable. You can work without explicit regulations, but you have a very strong disincentive or an incentive to adopt some form of regulations beforehand.
Then you have two options. One is you choose among existing regulations from the top 30 OECD countries. So you’re saying, “Hey, I’m regulated by Norwegian law, Japanese law,” which keeps things very simple because if you worked before in other jurisdictions and you were do way of doing businesses optimized for that, then you can just pick the law of that jurisdiction and can do it there as well.
The third option is regulatory election. You can say, “I want to develop something new. I want to combine the best aspects of the laws of Norway or FDA and X, and I’m proposing it.” In which case, you have to have an insurance company and a private arbitrator agree to it, and then it enters basically precedence and you and others can use that set of regulations and the insurance company and the arbitrator holds you liable for it. Minicircle was actually developing their own regulations right now. We have a bank called Seshat Bank that developed their own financial regulation. That is something that is very feasible.
One of the reasons I’m interested in life extension is I want to extend my own life to see how so many of these things turn out. and also because I have such a limited bandwidth now that I can’t get involved in all of the different things that I want to get involved with and help support. I’m sure you’re kind of in a similar situation where there’s so much interesting work happening in this space of decentralization in startup cities and new forms of governance that I want to be involved in all of it. What other projects are you looking at with excitement, what other people are working in this space that you’re interested in and want to see succeed?
Sure. Happy to give a couple of shout outs. In the longevity space, definitely big shout outs to VitaDAO, to Sebastian Brunemeier, to Laurence Ion, to Adam Gries, who’ve been really pushing things forward there.
When it comes to new city developments, as I mentioned, Threefold in Zanzibar, also Fumbatown in Zanzibar. These are very cool projects. Nkwashi, a charter city in Zambia, it’s a very exciting project. In Nigeria you have Temple Cities and Itana. These are very exciting new projects. Small Farm Cities in Malawi. Africa in general will be interesting.Shout out to Vitalik [Buterin] and the Ethereum community in Zuzalu, of course, because he’s been reifying this space and getting a lot of attention to it. Shout out to everyone, investors who put their trust in me and startups and entrepreneurs that are willing to carry the world on their shoulders and I think the most important research we have in the world to improve humanity.
Big shout outs to every existing entrepreneur who is willing to do these kinds of things that push humanity forward amd take the risk, take their personal risk and liability, to push things forward. So I’m very excited to be working with such fantastic entrepreneurs. In the end, my work is all about whatever moves the needle and helping entrepreneurs succeed in these areas.
You mentioned the Longevity Network state, the various events that are coming up in Próspera and beyond. You have your own Stranded Technologies podcast. Where would you recommend people go to follow along with what you’re doing to learn more about events that are coming up and, and get involved in this emerging movement?
Definitely the Stranded Technologies podcast. My blog is also called Stranded Technologies. I post new events there. I have a Link Tree with some other links to join some of these other communities. I think one group that’s definitely good to follow is to Build Próspera Summits and the events group. This is where it’s the lowest friction touchpoints to figure out where the next events are going on.
Thank you so much, Niklas, for joining me on Lifespan News and I look forward to continue the conversation later.
Fantastic, Ryan. Was really happy to be on.
Hey everyone, thanks for watching the first Making Time interview. We plan to have many more of these, so please subscribe and stick around. Also, leave a comment and let us know what you thought and share this to help spread the work. I’m your host, Ryan O’Shea, and we’ll see you next time on Lifespan News.
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