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Inside Serenbe: the utopian ‘wellness community’ driving a $134B industry
What began in 2004 as one man’s wish to escape “visual pollution” of society is now Serenbe: a 1k-acre community in the middle of a Georgia forest, designed to promote the physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness of its residents.
Consisting of 300 homes with wrap-around porches and athleisure-clad inhabitants, Serenbe is leading the charge in planned “wellness communities” — a booming market worth over $134B globally.
But with its strict rules (like not being allowed to park your car outside), and the most affordable home there starting at $359k, we have to wonder…
What’s so “utopian” about Serenbe?
For one, guests literally get free bunnies at check-in. They also have a 25-acre organic farm, farmer’s market, hotel, spa, bookstore, and a New York Times-recognized “playhouse.”
The community is designed to encourage active lifestyles: its 600 residents (including 130 “free range kids”) have at their disposal blueberry-lined trails and “medicinal landscaping” with herbs for natural remedies.
It’s also home to Steve Nygren, Serenbe’s charismatic 71-year-old founder.
The Sensei of Serenbe
Described as having “energy rivaling a cruise ship director,” Nygren is a retired restaurateur who bought 60 acres of land in 1991 “on a whim.” A few years later, he quit his job and moved onto the property with his wife and 3 daughters.
Now, Nygren’s teaching others his ways as a “wellness community consultant” — and aspiring developers, city commissioners, and investors travel from all over the world to sop up his wisdom.
Investors are starting to catch on
Serenbe’s not just a pastoral utopia: it’s a lucrative investment opportunity, and plans are in place to construct 1.2k homes for 3.5k residents in the next few years.
In the US alone, the wellness community market is worth $52.5B, and globally, it’s growing 6.4% per year. There are nearly 740 development projects in production around the world, capable of housing over 4.1m people at full capacity in the next few decades.
As Nygren puts it, the utopian town “will be a niche until it’s everywhere.”
Are robots the answer to the agricultural job shortage?
Most conversations on workplace automation (a la the mechanical replacement of pizza chefs or cashiers), are accompanied by an alarmist, but valid, question: “Will a robot take my job?”
But in the case of the agriculture industry, robots are actually “working” jobs that don’t exist.
In the past decade, fruit and vegetable growers have faced a shortage of pickers — and now, farms across America are increasingly leveraging new technology to fill the void.
Nobody wants to pick fruit
The American farming industry has seen its workforce of pickers dwindle by an astonishing 20% since 2002.
Tightened immigration and worker visa laws have crimped the flow of farm laborers from Mexico and Central America, and despite rising wages from the fallout, American workers still aren’t interested in picking fruit.
AgTech companies have been working on robot pickers for years, but the machines have come with massive challenges: turns out, it’s not so easy to reliably identify fruit and remove it without causing cosmetic damage.
But as tech advances, these bots are nearing reality
Researchers in Washington state are developing algorithm-heavy robots that are capable of “vigorously shaking” cherry trees in a way that safely extracts about 90% of the fruit.
It’s not an isolated effort: Abundant Robotics produces suction-based bots that “duplicate the dexterity, judgment and perception of human apple pickers.” LettuceBot automatically detects and eliminates weeds, and AgroBot picks strawberries with increasing accuracy.
And at least for now, these bots aren’t replacing jobs; they’re alleviating a shortage.
Google’s moonshot competition ends without a winner
On Tuesday, Google ended their ambitious $30m contest for a private company to shoot a robot to the moon after none of the finalist teams felt they could meet the March 31 deadline.
Titled the Google Lunar XPrize, the competition was a follow-up to the Ansari X prize, a $10m contest won by SpaceShipOne in 2004 for being the first non-government vehicle to make it to space.
What did they have to do for GLXP?
To win top honors, one of the 5 teams would’ve had to successfully build and land a spacecraft on the moon, travel at least 500 meters, then transmit video and images in HD back to Earth.
While officials reportedly had high hopes for a few teams in the competition, GLXP’s founders ultimately called it off, explaining that, “due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges, the grand prize … will go unclaimed.”
AKA, space travel is really friggin hard
The trials and tribs of space travel highlight the incredible uphill climb facing even the most well-funded private space programs in the world.
Even giants like SpaceX and Boeing have recently experienced ‘major delays’, battling technical issues and a grueling regulatory process as they try to help NASA fly its astronauts to space.
Meanwhile, private spaceflight companies like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and other smaller contenders continue to come out of the woodwork — each hoping to push the boundaries of humankind.
At the beginning of last year, Ring — the “As Seen on Shark Tank” video doorbell and security startup — raised $109m in a Series D round, following an already impressive $61.2m round in 2016.
Fast forward to 2018, and Ring has raised a whopping $209m in total funding, valuing them at close to $1B. That’s ample cash to pursue their noble goal of keeping already wealthy neighborhoods safe…
And that ain’t it, people
Ring’s immense success is thanks, in large part, to the recent rise in smart home products like doorbell cameras, package delivery locks, and other tech that capitalizes on society’s obsession with security.
Ring’s financiers now include Richard Branson and Goldman Sachs — and Shaquille O’Neal partnered with the company to help bring the technology to Georgia homes.
But even smart doorbells aren’t immune to controversy….
Welcome to Doorbell Wars
In the wake of Ring’s success, a competing smart doorbell company, Skybell Technologies, filed a lawsuit. They claim Ring copied their tech after receiving a link to Skybell’s patent portfolio, and started using the technology after their failure on Shark Tank led to a rebrand.
When reached for comment, all Skybell’s founder, Andrew Thomas, maintained was that he “will continue to defend [his] IP” in the midst of open litigation.
The team at Goodr was sick of overpaying for sunglasses that always fall off your head and break. So they designed inexpensive, stylish sunglasses that stay on your head even when you move around a lot.
One of our most popular presentations from our content conference Con Con, Michael Quartz (awesome name, right?), the Creative Director of Quartz, talks about how to make content that your readers will love — without watering down your brand.
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We want to give you and a friend a break from reality: starting with a FREE trip to Iceland — you know, the same place they film GoT.
We’ve teamed up with a few friends of our own to pull together the sweetest giveaway in the northern hemisphere.
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This edition of The Hustle was brought to you by
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