‘It is a good moment to invest in Portugal’

Portugal has seen exceptional economic growth recently with the foundation being laid through innovative and creative companies in different areas of industry. Chitra Stern, a British-Swiss entrepreneur in Portugal for 16 years, talks about her latest opportunity to work with Portugal IN – a temporary task force created by the Prime Minister of Portugal to help attract even more foreign direct investment (FDI), especially in the wake of Brexit.

What is Portugal IN?

Portugal IN has the objective of helping investors from the UK and beyond by working with them to invest in Portugal. We are co-operating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Economy, which have already been working on FDI over several years, while focusing on Brexit-related investments in Portugal. The remit is to work with all necessary ministries and departments to help investors to make this step given all the good initiatives that have been introduced in the last couple of decades that have made Portugal more investor-friendly.

The executive committee comprises three members: Bernardo Trindade (President of the mission), Gonçalo Lobo Xavier and myself.

Bernardo Trindade is not only an entrepreneur working in his family’s business (Porto Bay Hotels & Resorts) but is also a former Secretary of State for Tourism, during which time he made some crucial changes in structure, legislation and promotion abroad that led to the growth of the sector to what it is today. He has also recently joined the board of TAP, the national airline. Gonçalo Lobo Xavier is on the board at the nationwide association that represents the most important industrial sector in Portugal regarding international trade and manufacturing, is based in Porto and is also VP in charge of Communication at the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels. Together, we have a strong team with a highly complementary set of skills and perspectives.

Our objective is to work with entrepreneurs/start-ups/corporates and public entities across the key sectors in all regions in the country to help promote them as potential areas for investors from abroad. We are also working closely with the Prime Minister’s Cabinet to resolve any immediate issues that might be facing investors. We are here to help provide practical solutions where possible to boost investment, even from existing investors. Although the primary objective is to focus on investors who wish to remain in the EU after Brexit, there are also others whom we are attracting as it is a good moment to invest in Portugal.

What can foreign investors coming here expect?

As foreign investors ourselves in Portugal initially, my husband and I have built up a successful business from scratch since 2001, when Portugal wasn’t even on the map for investment as it is today! The lifestyle for someone building up a business and a family is excellent here: great all-year round weather; lovely, tolerant and liberal people who are open to immigrant investors; English is widely spoken and people are patient when you are learning Portuguese; fantastic food and wine with Portuguese chefs gaining huge recognition at the moment; a trendy and modern European vibe which is also apparent in its surf culture. It really is the “California of Europe”!

In addition, thanks to all the benefits of being part of the EU and good work done by successive governments in the areas of education and socioeconomic development, Portugal now has a new generation of qualified and skilled workers in various sectors.

Portugal is in the same time zone as the UK and Ireland; is well-connected by three major airports to several cities in Europe and the Americas, Africa as well as the Middle East and Asia; has good infrastructures in terms of roads; and a great penetration of fibre optic and cellular networks for telecommunications. 

Expat life is further enhanced by wide fluency in English, good international schools in Porto, Lisbon and the Algarve – such as the American School in Lisbon, St. Julian’s, Nobel International School, OBS; as well as high-quality universities for students to attend after graduating from high school – such as the NOVA School of Business & Economics, the Universities of Lisbon, Coimbra, Braga, Porto, Évora, and Algarve. With regards to private healthcare, there are good networks of private hospitals all over the country connected to foreign insurance schemes.

The investment scene is seeing a lot of activity…

Events like Web Summit coming to Lisbon in 2016 are changing perceptions and are helping more start-ups take root in Lisbon. The Lisbon Investment Summit has had its best ever year this year with more start-ups and several Private Equity firms and Venture Capital companies visiting Lisbon to study the investment scene. Co-working spaces like Second Home are starting to blossom all over Lisbon.

There are various incentive programmes all over the country for start-ups including “soft loans” and co-investments in innovative and tech start-ups by the government, along with participation from EU funds.

It is interesting but the perception of Portugal seems to be different from afar sometimes, and part of my own role in Portugal IN is to help increase the awareness of Portugal as a business-friendly country – a professional environment where start-ups are beginning to thrive and a place where the work ethic is strong. We are poised to make a great leap forward and I hope more investors realise what a gem of a place Portugal is to invest in – not least because it is a strong member of the EU!

Chitra Stern is a British-Swiss entrepreneur who has been living and investing in the growth of her and her husband’s real-estate and hotel businesses – Martinhal Family Hotels & Resorts in Portugal – which they have grown into a group of four hotels located in Lisbon and the Algarve. They have lived in the Algarve for 15 years but have recently moved to Lisbon. They are now investing in commercial real estate as well. She and her husband have four children, all born in Portugal. Email PortugalIN: [email protected]