Free Cities at Vitalia 2024

by | Feb 26, 2024 | Blog

Vitalia 2024 is a pop-up city hosted by the ZEDE Próspera on the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras. Pop-up cities are temporary communities that bring together innovators from various industries to learn and share ideas and projects. They combine speeches, panel discussions, networking, and co-working to connect leading thinkers from around the world.

The first pop-up city was Zuzalu, which took place in Montenegro from March 25th to May 25th, 2023. Vitalik Buterin, the inventor of Ethereum, founded it. Vitalia 2024 was planned to be a temporary community from January 6th to March 1st, 2024, but it was so successful it was extended to April 1st.

The event was founded and organized by Niklas Anzinger, the founder of Infinita VC and the host of Stranded Technologies.

Vitalia’s primary focus is longevity and biotech, but each weekend features a different theme or event. The Startup Societies and Crypto Cities Summit took place from February 2nd to 4th with speeches and panel discussions held in the specially built dome that seats hundreds and provides cool temperatures. 

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The weekend event was also sponsored by Joseph McKinney, Publisher of the Journal of Special Jurisdictions, and Nathalie Mezza-Garcia, CEO and COO, respectively, of the Catawba Digital Economic Zone, the first US Special Economic Zone. The CDEZ receives its autonomy from the semi-sovereign status of the Catawba Indian Nation.

ZEDE Ciudad Morazán was represented by the developer, Massimo Mazzone, and residents, Alex Ugorji and me. We arrived Thursday, February 1st, and Alex arranged for an informal Morazán meetup that evening where Massimo could speak about Ciudad Morazán and answer questions. There was much interest.

One of the first new people I met was Aubrey de Grey, the renowned biomedical gerontologist and author. I was surprised by his interest in the Free Cities movement. I noticed throughout the weekend that he attended all the presentations and took notes on his computer.

The conference began promptly on Friday morning. The schedule was packed with short, concise presentations, and the organization was impeccable. There were too many informative speeches to describe each one, but they ranged in relevant topics from Max Medina of the Laboratory for Visual Architecture describing the architecture in Próspera to Niza Gonzalez of the Adrianople Group introducing the interactive New Cities map the firm had developed.

Some highlights for me included Bob Haywood of Community Matters Institute sharing insights from his fifty years of experience in building Special Economic Zones worldwide, including his contribution to the ZEDE law in Honduras.

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Another highlight was Magatte Wade, famed speaker, author, and Director of the Center for African Prosperity, giving an impassioned speech about the potential for prosperity in Africa, driven by the rise of new startup cities creating business-friendly environments. I had just read her book, Heart of a Cheetah, and was inspired by her energy.

Balaji Srinivasan, former CTO of Coinbase, former general partner of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and author of The Network State, which I had also recently read, appeared virtually on Friday afternoon. His ideas about starting communities in the cloud and later expanding into a physical territory are revolutionizing the startup societies space.

On Friday afternoon, short speeches by Free City investment experts like Patri Friedman, founder of the Seasteading Institute and Pronomos Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in startup cities, updated the audience on the field. Alex Voss, CFO at Tipolis, which builds Free Private Cities, added his insights.

Niklas Anzinger of Infinita VC and Dave McClure, angel investor and founder of Practical Venture Capital, joined them for a panel discussion about investment in new cities.

On Saturday afternoon, Jorge Colindres, the Technical Secretary and highest official of Próspera, talked about Prospera’s legal foundation. Alex Ugorji interviewed Massimo about Ciudad Morazán. Joe and Nathalie spoke about the Catawba Digital Economic Zone as the first US SEZ.

Afterward, Jorge, Joe, Nathalie, and Massimo were joined by Arthur Breitman, co-founder of Tezos, a proof of stake blockchain, for a panel about best practices for later-stage startup society projects.

Another highlight for me was Mac Davis, founder of Minicircle, a biotechnology clinic running clinical trials for gene therapies, and Greg Nakagawa, CEO of Pristine Regenerative Medicine, talking about longevity research in startup societies.

Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University, gave a fascinating speech about the Frontiers in Governance Innovation.

Vitalik Buterin appeared virtually as the last speaker of the day. It was especially meaningful that he appeared at the pop-up city event inspired by his Zuzalu.

The biggest unscheduled highlight of the weekend for me was late Saturday night. Balaji flew in from Singapore on Saturday and appeared informally after 10 pm at the restaurant where about a dozen people, including the group from Morazán, had a chance to ask him questions. Mark Edge, a long-time host of the radio show Free Talk Live and an investor in Honduras, elicited some special insights from Balaji about both Bitcoin and network states.

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The major highlight of the Sunday morning session was a pitch competition, which has become a tradition for Niklas Anzinger’s events. There were eighteen pitches for projects related to startup societies and crypto cities. The business ideas were innovative and varied. Many of them received some interest and follow-up from the audience.

Balaji watched all the pitches with obvious attention. He also stayed after the official end of the summit for a fireside chat with Niklas.

The final official panel of the day and the conference was a conversation between Bryan Johnson, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author, and investor in science and technology companies, and Aubrey de Grey, moderated by Laurence Ion, founder of VitaDAO.

If the Startup Societies and Crypto Cities Summit sounds like all work and no play, that was far from the case. There was plenty of stimulating conversation, informal idea-sharing, and partying. The organizers and the community that gathered Próspera simply put together an all-round unforgettable event that showcased the high spirits and incredible energy of the broader Free Cities movement.