Collegiate opened one of the first residences of professional students near the Marquis of Pombal in Lisbon. The 330-bed format is the first of the operator in Portugal. Eri Cuanalo, Collegiate ACs CEO, talks about this new format and about the Portuguese market.

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How did you first get involved in the Student Housing Sector?

I got involved in the management of student accommodation 15 years ago in the UK at a pioneering stage of the market and have worked on several hundred projects, likely more than anyone else.  Many of the schemes I was involved with were ground-breaking and included some of the largest schemes in the UK.  Along with product innovation, I also set a number of new management practices in the UK that were then adopted by the market, from tenancy lengths to payment methods, but most importantly in improving the student experience.

Frustrated by the lack of focus on the student experience, I established Collegiate at the start of the decade, 7 years ago, to focus on delivering a world-leading student experience in a way that brought greater liquidity to investors wanting to support the sector. 

Why did you decide to invest in Lisbon?

Five years ago we started a discussion with one of our UK partners about taking the Collegiate lifestyle product to Iberia (it helped that I speak Spanish!) and that made us commit to expanding our systems, structures and organisation for Iberia.  Shortly afterwards we were approached by another group about Lisbon, Temprano Capital Partners, backed by a US investor, WP Carey.  Temprano had a great deal of experience in property but were unsure about whether a student scheme was viable and whether they could find an appropriate operating partner.  I was very excited about Lisbon and flew to visit the site, Temprano also sent their team to visit us in the UK and see some of our projects so we could understand each other’s philosophy, and WP Carey’s objectives.  We then collectively embarked on a design, development and construction programme that led to Collegiate Marques de Pombal. 

What are your first impressions of investing in Portugal? 

Like any new market, those of us with experience know you need a local partner to enable the development and construction phases, and that you need also to comply with new market requirements in administration and legal housing requirements, so we went in with our eyes wide open but we still had a number of surprises!  What we also found however was that the local authorities, though insistent on local requirements, were very helpful indeed in assisting us to overcome challenges – they were collaborative rather than obstructive and that was a breath of fresh air. 

What’s next for Collegiate here in Lisbon and across Iberia?

Our objective is to establish a swift position of market leadership across Iberia.  We already have over 6,000 state-of-the art new student apartments in development / construction and we expect to double that by 2020.  In addition, we expect to assist progressive Universities in Iberia to help improve their in-house provision with our expertise and the development and investment capital of our partners.

What are your personal feelings on Lisbon/Portugal?

I have to confess that I have fallen in love with Lisbon and the surrounding area. The food and quality of life is, for me, the best I have seen in the world, as for the golf…. I have already set plans in motion to make a home outside of Lisbon in the countryside.  As for studying, if I had the option of coming to Lisbon, enjoying the world-class education, and staying at the equivalent of one of our residences, I wouldn’t have thought twice… so I am very jealous of our student residents!