How Dubai pips Singapore as the Metaverse, NFT and Web 3.0 hub


Calvin Cheng. — Supplied  photo
Calvin Cheng. — Supplied photo

Calvin Cheng, a former MP from the city state, chooses Dubai over his native Singapore to set up his NFT investment company


Joydeep Sengupta

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Tue 24 May 2022, 5:42 PM

Last updated: Tue 31 Jan 2023, 2:11 PM

Calvin Cheng, a former Parliamentarian from Singapore, investor, and entrepreneur, has formed the first regulated non-fungible token (NFT) and fan token investment company in Dubai.

Dubai’s Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority (VARA) — the world’s first specialised regulator for virtual assets such as cryptocurrency that was established in March this year — has granted the company a provisional licence to operate under full regulatory supervision alongside Binance, FTX, and Bybit.

Cheng, who was named as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, in 2009, will invest in projects to integrate crypto into fashion, media, and entertainment via Calvin Cheng Web3 Holdings FZE.

The Singaporean weighed in on his decision to invest in virtual assets in Dubai instead of his native Singapore during an exclusive interaction with Khaleej Times.

“I believe that actions speak louder than words. For the last few years, Singapore garnered a reputation to be ‘crypto-friendly’ and many crypto firms moved there. In the meantime, the Monetary Authority of Singapore dragged their feet, and when they finally acted, they showed themselves to be overly conservative and the big crypto companies like Binance decided to leave. Dubai, on the other hand, showed itself to be progressive and open-minded, and quickly attracted and licenced four of the largest crypto exchanges — Binance, FTX, and Bybit. NFTs will eventually be regulated, and it was better for me to get ahead of the curve with a progressive and innovative regulator in Dubai such as VARA,” Cheng said.

However, he refused to divulge how long the VARA took to grant his company a provisional licence. “This is confidential and classified information. I found VARA to be efficient, open-minded, and flexible, which is what a regulator should be when facing a new, disruptive industry,” he added.

Cheng elaborated on the role of his holding company. “I believe that the next evolution of digital assets/metaverse is mass adoption. It’s only when digital assets and currencies are understood by a wider audience, that they can enter the mainstream. This mirrors the evolution of the internet. For instance, in the mid 1990s, traditional businesses dismissed the internet as a fad, and the early adopters were mostly geeks and enthusiasts. It was only when internet businesses made themselves relevant to a lay person that there was more adoption. Besides, it’s the innovation of social media platforms which have led to mass adoption,” he said.

Cheng said NFTs are to Web 3.0, what social media platforms are to Web 2.0.

“It’s something that an average person understands and can drive mass adoption. Everyone understands what a collectible is. Everyone understands what a membership, or a ticket is. It’s through the world of arts, fashion, sports, media, and entertainment that NFTs lend themselves most readily to,” Cheng said.

He is convinced that NFTs would drive Web 3.

“I’ve had deep experience in media and entertainment and have vast networks there. My projects will leverage off these companies that I already own, or have relationships with, and take them into Web 3.0.

“First, I’m a shareholder of Amber Lounge, the premier pop-up VIP post party for Formula-1 (F-1). We’re launching an Amber Lounge NFT membership called Amber X which allows our members and community even more exclusive access to our events. This follows in the same vein as other projects such as Coachella launching membership NFTs, and the exclusive NFT members-only restaurant Fly Fish,” Cheng added.

What about the funding?

“We were in the process of raising up to $20 (Dh73.46) million in NFT sales later this month, but the crypto currency crash has led us to introspect,” he said.

“Second, I’m still invested in artists and influencer management agencies across the world. I will be bringing all the followers of our celebrities and influencers into one community and issuing NFTs to access a web 3.0 fan club. In India alone, we’re confident of an initial community of 100 million followers, and these NFTs will allow influencers to monetise their followers more effectively. It will also allow fans and followers to interact better with the celebrities they follow and get exclusive access and content. Fan tokens will be eventually issued to this community, which will allow fans to show their support more effectively, and for the influencers to monetise their popularity better. Instagram plans to add an NFT function soon. This project is tentatively named Celeb X,” Cheng added.

VARA will play a central role in creating new investment opportunities in Dubai's fast-growing virtual asset industry, as the emirate moves towards safer economic freedom backed by greater technological innovation and digital transformation.

The announcement follows similar preliminary permits that enable readiness to operate under full regulatory supervision, that VARA is granting to world-leading crypto exchanges.

VARA noted, “Calvin Cheng Web3 Holdings FZE will be the first international business to actively seek regulation, despite being able to operate lawfully in many other qualifying global jurisdictions. Such appreciation of the need for strong governance for the sector to mature and safely scale, reflects credible intent of purpose and sound reputation of Cheng, which has supported our consideration for this company to participate in Dubai’s MVP programme.”

Dubai is the only global economy to have an independently regulated virtual assets environment under VARA. The emirate’s virtual asset’s ecosystem is governed by comprehensive legislation and internationally applicable policy frameworks. Designed as the world’s first participatory-governance model, where industry innovators and market shapers share responsibility with policy makers to create a more democratic and borderless economy.

VARA is structured to increase collaboration and innovation, without compromising public protection. Under the VARA regime, all business services will be subject to thorough regulatory oversight, and end-to-end mandatory Financial Action Task Force (FATF) compliance controls. —

More news from Business