Founding Startup Societies

The punk rock anarchist ethos of “do it yourself” very much applies the exercise of “class struggle” in the present world economy.  The objective should be to agitate for more and more zones of economic and political autonomy.

By Mark Frazier


The rapid technological and economic changes of modernity have inspired a growing number of movements to explore new forms of governance in small places. We call these experimental areas “Startup Societies.” (Founders of the Startup Societies Foundation coined this term because no existing term covered all governance experiments). Some of the most vibrant areas in the global economy began as Startup Societies. Cities such as Singapore, Dubai, and Shenzhen are examples of the economic dynamism that concentrated political reform can bring. Similar policies have rejuvenated rural and urban neighborhoods around the world.

This Guidebook is the first to provide entrepreneurs comprehensive how-to information to build Startup Societies. It sets out practical steps for founders to create a venture, attract funding, secure reforms and run self-sustaining Startup Societies. The book backs up its guidelines with 50 years of research and field work in over 50 countries (see Appendix XIII, Author Backgrounds. The authors cover both business- and residentially-oriented developments that leverage targeted policy reforms. Chapters also explore how projects can start small and scale from a small cluster of buildings, to midsize projects, to whole new cities.

Startup Society Opportunities

This book distills lessons from thousands of thriving governance experiments around the world. Startup Societies fall into three main categories:

Free Economic Zones

These are special jurisdictions with business climate reforms. The number of Free Economic Zones have jumped from fewer than 600 in the mid-1970s to over 5,400 today. Sources: Diamond, Walter, Tax-Free Trade Zones of the World, Bender, 1976; UNCTAD estimate, 2019). They include duty-free retail, export manufacturing, financial services and information processing operations Zones. Many of their reforms focus on the removal of taxes, red tape and government monopolies. Some are as small as a single office building or a retail mall with duty-free shops. Others are industrial and office parks that host exporters of electronics, garments, software and healthcare services. In China, Special Economic Zones range from dozens to thousands of square kilometers.

Private Residential Communities

Opt-in communities offer new forms of self-governance for inhabitants. Private Residential Communities are exploding for the poor and rich alike. In the United States, over 300,000 residential Startup Societies now offer contract-based systems for residents, in contrast to 600 half a century earlier (CAUS). Private Residential Communities deliver services and amenities normally managed by municipalities. Examples include neighborhood and village-scale homeowners associations that take care of streets, parks, utilities and other common functions. Private Residential Communities also encompass condominiums, housing cooperatives, eco-villages, communes and other intentional communities. Residential community developers use deed or lease covenants to govern themselves. Deed agreements also ensure that residents can self-fund local services and infrastructure. Policy reforms in some cases have conveyed idle
public sites to Land Trusts to help fund community initiatives. New policies are also lifting regulations that limit the ability of residents to self-provide food, energy and other key services.

Integrated Startup Societies

Areas that include both Free Economic Zone and Private Residential Community elements are Integrated Startup Societies. These are the most advanced Startup Society type. Hong Kong, Songdo and Macau freeports provide exceptional tariff, tax and regulatory relief for residents and businesses alike. Chinese Special Economic Zones also have lifted tens of millions from poverty and created world-class commercial, industrial and residential hubs. Their example has inspired entrepreneurs to launch privately funded Integrated Startup Societies around the world.


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