The International Sharing School’s bold expansion plan

 In Education, In Focus, News

A private family office from Madeira has embarked on an ambitious €50 million International school development in Lisbon Metropolitan area which will revolutionise private education in Portugal. Essential Business met one of the owners, Miguel Santos, CEO of The International Sharing School.

Text: Chris Graeme

The International Sharing School in Oeiras has been open since 2019 but will reach its target of 400 students this year. It has doubled class numbers at all grade levels and acquired and refurbished an additional building from a bank — originally an old microchip factory — now refurbished and open for senior school pupils and which marks the 85,000 m2 first phase of the expansion project.
The next step in phase 1 of the expansion process is the transformation of a 71,000 m2 green plot where a long-term surface rights lease has been negotiated with Tagus Park – Portugal’s most advanced business, science, and technology park — around the school which will be turned into additional outdoor learning areas for the students and sports facilities, which will include the Sharing Club.

A Sharing community

Like a ‘country club’ for the international sharing school and community, it will feature gym facilities for parents and students, tennis & padel courts, spa, conference rooms and co-working and office spaces, as well as creating a new hospitality inspired educational concept — the International Sharing School Community.
“The International Sharing School Community is not just a school, it’s a community with different services which we will offer by partnering with other companies such as our Arts In Hotels, the Oeiras Padel Academy, so we are using our other ventures to complement the services we offer here at the school,” says the CEO of the International Sharing School, Miguel Santos.
Miguel Santos says that being part of the Sharing Community means being part of the local community with green areas for the school children, gym membership, office and co-working spaces and conference rooms for this community. “Our idea is to bring this hospitality mindset of making life easier for the families. Hospitality is the art of taking care of people and this is what we want to bring to our clients.”
Miguel Santos explains that currently 95% of the school’s students live with their families in Portugal while 5% of the pupils are in boarding operations.
The International Sharing School has negotiated the acquisition of additional plots to create the International Sharing School Campus and for one of the plots there are plans to create accommodation for up to 420 boarding students from 12-18.
For the latest expansion phase which involved a €10 million investment in building acquisition and refurbishment and is complete, the International Sharing School partnered with Dutch designer Rosan Bosch which specialises in a school learning concept and design which starts from the premise that everybody learns differently and needs variation and supports developing skills for the 21st century.
Spaces are designed on six principles that connect learning situations to the physical framework. Each describes a constellation of learning landscapes for the learner’s focus and interaction: the Mountain top, Cave, Campfire, Watering Hole, Hands-on and Movement.
“The concept is a unique one in Portugal and totally innovative. We opted to go with the concept, adapting it slightly to meet legal obligations in Portugal. The design does not use rooms but rather adaptable spaces where the students can work and learn in different ways”, says Miguel Santos.
For the three-month refurbishment and finishes for the new building the architect chosen was Open Book, an award-winning Portuguese group best-known for its ground-breaking design of the Nestlé premises near Lisbon, although the Sharing project management was done internally.
The International Sharing School follows the full IB curriculum from 3 year-old students up to 18 year-olds, which is a student-led project-based curriculum rather than a teacher-led content based British or American curriculum.
“We don’t have the traditional classroom and white board, rather working and lounge spaces for collaborative, individual and isolated work. It is a very flexible space which can be adapted for different uses. For example, our dining area can turn into co-working area when meals are not being served”, explains Miguel Santos.
“There is even a library with bunk beds for the students to use where they can work individually with their computers. It is about having flexible differentiated areas and not limiting the learning that is going onto fixed spaces”.
Miguel Santos says that the problem with traditional 20th century teaching models is that the classroom and white board approach with rows of pupils sat at desks assumes that all children are the same and learn in the same way. “Having this variety of spaces, we respect the individuality of the students and try and encourage the students to be the best that they can be”.

Plans to expand

And the Madeiran hotel and international school proprietors of the International Sharing School are not stopping there and have ambitious plans to extend the school, its lands, and premises to cater for up to 2,000 students with around 60% of the school’s growing base capacity currently set up
The second phase is the acquisition of other plots (44,000 m2) which has already been negotiated, with the operation being concluded before the end of the year.
“In two years, we will be at 100% of our current capacity (700 students) for the first phase and within 18 months want to start the next building”.
“Within 10 years we want to have all the investment made, the total construction done to cater for 1,500-2000 students,” explains Miguel Santos outlining a total investment of €50 million.

Financing the project

So far, the project’s proprietors have invested just over €15 million and are setting up the financial framework and vehicles to enable continued growth. One source of investment will be the Brazilian market where there has been a growing trend of affluent Brazilians seeking to invest or relocate to Portugal through its Golden Visa scheme and obviously want to access top-quality educational facilities for their children. But there is also interest form the US, the Middle East, China, Russia, and other markets.
But in addition to the parents themselves, there are institutional investors such as funds looking to invest in this growing niche market and make a return on that investment. “There are several types of investors who are interested in the international schools market. We have lot of Brazilians ovum to Portugal through the Golden Visa real estate investment option, so we want to present overseas investors with a different option which offers stable returns and buyback options at the end of the investment period”, says Miguel Santos.

The Sharing Education I Fund

The CEO of the International Sharing school points to that because it is a ‘family office’ and does not have partners, as well as the banking system’s lack of lending appetite for big-ticket investments in Portugal, it has and opted for an open fund and already has investors looking to buy unit participations in the fund.
“Many different funds wanted to buy our school, both Portuguese and overseas funds which see Portugal an education as an attractive option in a healthy market, but we didn’t want to sell the school to funds and end up working for them”.
Which is why the International Sharing School has set up its own special private education fund through a fund management team with international experience, one which offers a Golden Visa in exchange for a minimum €350,000 investment in partnership with Bison Bank.
The Sharing Education I Fund is a venture capital fund in which applicants — both Golden Visa applicants and general investors — can invest in the two existing and two new International Baccalaureate (IB) certified schools and the students’ boarding residence and campus in Oeiras in a project ‘Sharing Education 4 Life’.
The Sharing Education I Fund targets returns of IRR > 7%, benefiting from 0% capital gains on tax on fund returns. The fund is an onshore European equity fund for the Golden Visa Portugal and is USA-FATCA compliant.
For Golden Visa investors, these will have the possibility of exercising a put option on year six (the minimum time period the investment in exchange for a right to Portuguese residency and free circulation within Schengen area is five years) with the investor’s right to receive its share of the gross income up to a maximum amount of 4%, or in year 10 with the right to receive annually, the share of the gross income up to a maximum amount of 5%. At any time, and on their own initiative, the Golden Visa investors can sell their participation to third parties.
The investment opportunity was unveiled to Brazilian investors in August with the support of the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce in Brazil (São Paulo) entailed ‘Investment in Education Fund for Golden Visa’
João Barata, partner at Magnify Partners Financial Advisory which has responsibilities in areas of Real Estate and Wealth Management Investments and is advising the family office, says, “Many overseas investors looking for a Golden Visa apply for it so they can enjoy visa-free travel in the Schengen area but do not want to actually move to or live in Portugal. This is the case with many Brazilian investors, but others too”, he concludes.