"Malta could rival Singapore as a centre for foreign investment"

21st May 2017 – Jo Caruana

Social entrepreneur Mark Weingard, primarily known for pop-up restaurant Aziamendi 100 and his recent acquisition of an 8.92 per cent shareholding in MIDI plc, talks about why he chose to invest in Malta, the island he now calls home.

Social entrepreneur and investor Mark Weingard may not be certain about everything in life, but he is convinced about one thing in particular: Malta is going to be his home for the rest of his life.

“I am a big fan of this place,” he says buoyantly. “I have bought a home here, set up businesses here and invested in projects here. I really love being in Malta and believe the country has a strong future ahead of it.”

Mr Weingard is well-known in local business circles. From his pop-up restaurant Aziamendi 100 to his more recent acquisition of an 8.92 per cent shareholding in MIDI plc, he has put his money where his mouth is when it comes to building his local portfolio. “I have money to invest and I want Malta to be part of my legacy,” he says, adding that he considers himself a social entrepreneur, with an equal interest in building businesses while also leaving his mark on the country’s social capital.

Mr Weingard sees Malta as one of the hottest investment opportunities in Europe. “There are a number of things that make the islands very attractive to foreign investors,” he says. “Integration is one of them. There are very few countries I have experienced that will accept you as easily as Malta will. I have lived in Switzerland, Thailand and Spain, to name a few, and always felt like a foreigner, as 95 per cent of my friends were expats. I have now lived in Malta for four years and 95 per cent of my friends are locals, so I feel like a local. That is very important to me.”

Mr Weingard cites other benefits – including the tax reductions for foreign investment – among the reasons why he became interested in Malta in the first place. “This sort of activity helps to put Malta on the map; the passport scheme, the taxation regime and the openness of doing international business here. Local authorities have rolled out the red carpet for foreign investors and this has been a success, as it has attracted huge swathes of people who are excited to live in this beautiful place. There’s a lot to love about living here and doing business – the English-speaking workforce, the social life, the close proximity to the rest of Europe. The combination of the good financial climate and the good weather makes Malta very attractive. Prices may have gone up but I still see opportunity here.”

"It is vital that, when it comes to property development, the market is drip-fed not overwhelmed."

The entrepreneur goes so far as to say that he believes Malta could even rival the likes of Singapore. “In my opinion, Malta is going to become a centre for innovation and investment, and it will keep attracting foreign investment in the same way it has done recently. Beyond that, the Maltese are also themselves very entrepreneurial, which will help to provide a solid base for the economy as it continues to develop.”

As for the sustainability of Malta’s future, though, this is where Mr Weingard admits it may be prudent to apply the brakes a little. “I’ll admit I am not a big fan of high-rise buildings, and not just because of the way they look in an environment like this,” he says. “It is vital that, when it comes to property development, the market is drip-fed not overwhelmed. If ten massive developments suddenly come onto the market at the same time, then that is potentially unsustainable. It’s all about the age-old play of supply versus demand, and one cannot afford to tip too far in one direction. I don’t think there’s room for 10,000 new units to come onto the market – that would be too much. But there is room for two or three thousand. I am not concerned yet but I am keeping an eye out,” he says.

Mr Weingard is monitoring things environmentally, as he believes too much development could make Malta uninhabitable, “which would be a real shame.” This is where his passion for social entrepreneurship strides in. He aims to lead by example when it comes to the sort of projects he believes could make up the framework for Malta’s sustainable future. He is especially interested in Valletta, and has bought a number of buildings within its walls that he is currently restoring, including a hotel.

“The results will be part of the regeneration of this incredible city, and our aim is to invest money that will in turn recirculate and lead to more projects. I have seen a lot of criticism of developers in Valletta but, trust me, it’s not easy to work within these walls and it takes dedication; if you wanted to develop for the sake of it, you would avoid Valletta as it is so much more expensive and complicated. That leads me to believe that those working in Valletta are doing so with the right intentions – to make the capital as beautiful and dynamic as it can be. Currently I have to say that it’s a real pleasure watching it all come to life.”

Finally, another important project for Mr Weingard has been the creation of the Social Impact Awards, in partnership with Joe Gasan, chairman and chief executive of the Gasan Group of Companies. “The first edition of the event last year was very well received, and our second edition in October will build on that success. They will be an important platform for putting great ideas into society and making them happen. We hope to have €100,000 available in grants for the successful start-ups, as well as very exciting mentorship opportunities. We’re currently looking for fellow donors and organisations willing to help make that change.”

This interview first appeared on The Business Observer. Read the full issue here.


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