Today: Jul 22, 2024

Thiel-Backed Startup dreams up futuristic city; Bhutan’s Dragon King delivers.

7 months ago

After a startup proposed a plan for a high-tech city in Bhutan backed by Peter Thiel’s VC firms, the Bhutanese government is now reportedly developing its own version of the project, without involvement from the startup or its Silicon Valley investors. The project created by South African-American entrepreneur Art Finch sought to transform Gelephu, Bhutan into an eco-industrial city attracting innovators and thinkers from around the world. The ambitious plan would have hosted companies including lab-grown diamond company Diamond Foundry, drone startup Dronamics, and carbon capture operator Carbo Culture. However, Bhutan’s government has now disavowed the startup’s project and plans to announce its own mindfulness-focused “megacity” instead.

Bhutan’s “Dragon King” Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is expected to make the announcement of the “Bhutan Mindfulness City” on the country’s National Day. This plan is reportedly being developed by consulting firms McKinsey & Company and Singapore’s Cistri. Unlike the original proposal from the startup, the royal megacity will be a completely sovereign project. It aims to build a dense urban centre supported by industries such as wellness, tourism, R&D and cryptocurrency, while incorporating Buddhist principles in line with Bhutan’s national religion.

However, the project could face opposition from Bhutan’s citizens, with concerns about land grabs and displacement of farmers in Gelephu. The project has already drawn criticism for its apparent similarities to the startup’s original plan, with Finch accusing Bhutan’s government of taking their idea. It remains unclear who will fund the megacity’s construction, particularly as attracting foreign investors may prove difficult without substantial incentives. The list of potential investors includes Indian billionaire Gautam Adani and American venture capitalist Tim Draper, although the latter did not confirm his involvement in the project.

Bhutan’s new endeavour is part of its ongoing efforts to modernise its economy and prevent mass migration. The country has previously launched a series of ambitious projects, including its own cryptocurrency portfolio. Despite being called a “moonshot” project, it is hoped the megacity will create new jobs and opportunities to retain the country’s youth population.