Bhutan's entrepreneurs can now open a business in under a minute

03 June 2021

A new government platform using UNCTAD's online single window technology powers business registration in record time, supporting livelihoods during the COVID-19 crisis.

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© Souvik

Bhutan became the fastest place in the world to start a small business when it unveiled its G2B portal on 13 May.

The new small business registration portal uses UNCTAD’s online single window technology, currently operational in 10 countries.

Entrepreneurs can fill in a form on their phone and receive their business documents by email in less than a minute and at no cost.

“Our approach is to innovate first, regulate later, so as to reduce entry barriers for new businesses, embrace innovation and allow creativity to flourish,” said Bhutan’s minister of economic affairs, Tengye Lyonpo

The portal is a big change for the mountain kingdom’s entrepreneurs, who previously had to trek across the Himalayas to one of six government offices and wait for five days for registration.

For those living in remote valleys, this could involve walking an additional two days in each direction.

Online registration is currently available to Bhutan’s small or cottage companies, comprising firms valued at under $14,000. These businesses account for about 95% of the industries in Bhutan.

First mover

Rajini Tamang. 

The first entrepreneur to use the portal was Rajini Tamang of Home Basics and Interiors, a firm that collects wood waste from landfills and construction sites to transform into toys, flowerpots, cooking utensils and home decorative items.

“The new registration system is user-friendly,” she said. “You can apply from the comfort of your home and receive the registration certificate instantly. All you need to do is print it.”

Now that her business is formally registered, Ms. Tamang plans to hire skilled employees, including carpenters and sales personnel from the country’s vocational training institutes.

“Currently, we are just three of us in the team, all unskilled but driven by passion,” she said.

She also plans to explore export markets for her products, which are all handcrafted individually.

Cutting red tape

The simplification and automation of small business registration is part of the government’s red-tape-cutting drive.

"It has always been our objective to make service delivery fast and efficient through the reduction of processes and administrative burdens, and by adopting a ‘one government’ approach," Mr. Lyonpo said. 

The ministry plans to apply this approach to other administrative procedures and encourage other ministries to drop the need for certain additional permits depending on a company’s area of activity.

The government hopes the portal will help formalize and support the growth of Bhutan’s small and medium enterprises.

It also hopes the portal will boost employment in rural areas – as has been the case in other countries using UNCTAD’s platform – and support the country’s sustainable development.

Dazzling records

Bhutan is not the first country to break a world record thanks to UNCTAD’s digital government platform.

Last year Benin became the fastest place in the world to register a company of any size, at under two hours.

Since the launch of the number of companies being created and registered with the country’s tax and social security authorities has jumped 43%.

Half of Benin’s company creators are outside the capital, half are under 30 and one-third of the businesses are owned by women.

The UNCTAD platform is also powering business registration and facilitation in Argentina, Cameroon, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Iraq, Lesotho and Mali.

“Countries that operate our online single windows have seen more businesses created, more vulnerable communities supported, and their administrations are able to stay open during lockdown, thanks to our digital government programme,” said James Zhan, UNCTAD’s director of investment and enterprise.

Frank Grozel, who heads the organization’s digital government platform programme, added: “We are now working with partners and donors to roll out the platform for new countries and administrative procedures. Any country can use our system without changing their laws.”

UNCTAD’s business facilitation programme in Bhutan is funded by the Netherlands.