Hani Hebashi came to Georgia almost three years ago. The reason was simple, he wanted to explore fresh business prospects in a different country. Since the creation of OTI Holding Group, the investment Mr. Hebashi has attracted to Georgia amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars. He has massive ongoing projects that will come to fruition in the coming years. Mr. Hani Hebashi is an investor, a businessman and a successful CEO from Egypt. Forbes Georgia talks to the man himself.
Mr. Hebashi, first of all, tell us about yourself, how and where did you start your business career?
It all started with my first business in Egypt in 2008 in the field of airport supply. By 2011, I had moved to Saudi Arabia and started a business in the area of social responsibility. Two years later, I started a new business called Social Entrepreneur, a consultancy that promoted the idea of benefitting society when you do business. My time in Saudi Arabia came to an end in 2016, when I moved to Malaysia and built a business in the consulting and investment space. Malaysia is where real estate caught my eye. I organised the biggest conference in the country aimed at bringing in global investment and investors. Several other countries participated – Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia. The conference focussed on eight key sectors, among them were education, infrastructure, real estate, e-commerce, and communications. In January 2018, I came to Georgia and have been here since.
How and why did you start working and operating in Georgia?
After researching thirteen countries, I found that Georgia was easily the best option because of the low cost of living, extremely low taxation, and the country actively fights corruption. Additionally, Georgia has a high international ranking in terms of safety, ease of doing business, and a low level of corruption. You can also register a business very easily here. What more could one want!
At first, the sensible thing was to do business in areas where I already had experience. That is to say, in the sphere of investment and consultancy, as well as encouraging investors to come to Georgia. After learning more about the country, I found that real estate was one of the biggest sectors and it seemed logical to set up a property business here. In September 2018, OTI Holding Group was established and since being founded, the company works and has partnerships with the biggest real estate companies in the country – such as Archi, Unix, and Terrassa Group. At first, we worked primarily as a real estate intermediary, we bought and sold property on behalf of foreigners.
You also decided to start a student housing project in Georgia. How did this idea come about?
The student housing idea came about during the Covid-19 crisis. Countless businesses in many sectors had stopped operating. At the time, I picked my brains for a new business idea, thinking perhaps something in food, medicine or a business segment that would not stop due to the pandemic and that would never stop even if there were to be a second or third wave of the virus. I began researching further education in detail and found that from 2016, the number of foreign students coming to study in Georgia was steadily increasing. Georgia currently has about 12,000 foreign students, but there is no student accommodation that has international certified standards. You can find apartments or hostels, but these are not good from a safety perspective, students lose both time and money renting them.
Mr. Hebashi, your work has involved building student dormitories for years in Malaysia. Tell us about your interests in the field of education and how did you identify that there were problems in this sector?
Yes, it was in Malaysia that I first got involved in this sector. Why education? It is very common to be involved in this realm in Malaysia. But, here in Georgia, I think that the market really needs this project.
“Student House” will be the first multifunctional residential complexes in Georgia across five locations in the cities of Tbilisi and Batumi. What stage is the project at? When do you plan to receive the first students?
The project is in an active phase and construction has already begun. The first campus will be ready to receive students for the 2021 spring semester. Not long to go!
What is your investment in this project?
$160 million, but this figure does not just represent ‘Student House’, we have numerous other projects too. According to statistics, student housing is in the top five most attractive sectors for investment worldwide; where investors get a return of 4.5-7%, but in Georgia we decided to offer investors up to 10%.
There are many universities in Tbilisi and Batumi. What kind of cooperation exists between OTI Holding Group and educational institutions?
We have several partnerships already in place. The universities are pleased with our project and they are ready to cooperate with us because this is an essential project for them as well. They support our idea and we already have some proposals from them.
How many students can be housed in your residential complexes?
The campuses plan to serve about 5,000 students in total across five locations.
Thousands of foreign students study in Georgia. Will these residential complexes be mainly designed for them?
Yes, there are many foreign students studying in Georgia, and there are also 150,000 local students. These complexes are designed for all students; it does not matter if they are foreign or local. In my personal opinion, more residents will be Georgian rather than foreign.
How affordable will it be for Georgian students?
Our team has been working extremely hard to make the price affordable for both Georgian and foreign students alike.
What makes ‘Student House’ unique as a project?
In order to make the Georgian education system more attractive, it is vital to have student accommodation with international standards – like ‘Student House’. Having said this, it is very important to note that ‘Student House’ is not conceptually just a living space; it is those additional opportunities that make it unique and attractive for both investors and students.
The complexes are being developed by TBG Group and OTI Holding Group. What are the main activities of your company in Georgia?
The activities are mostly concentrated on real estate. But OTI Holding Group does provide investors with consulting services and encourages foreigners to come to this country to invest in the economy. It should also be noted that our consulting is not only in the real estate sector, but also in other fields too.
OTI Holding Group’s offering includes providing business services to investors. What exactly do you offer them?
We help investors to start and manage businesses in all kinds of different industries, for example, in agriculture or hydropower, even in metal production.
Furthermore, our team of licensed brokerage service professionals are dedicated strategic real estate specialists. These are people with experience and a track record of success, who are committed to providing you with specific and informed market intelligence.
Also, OTI Holding Group has an investment service, which handles financial assets and other investments not only in terms of buying and selling. For example, real estate management, which offers management services for real estate of all types. It helps secure and increase both property income and value. OTI Holding Group also offer construction and development – creating and building residential neighbourhoods, custom-built homes, and commercial hubs.
How many investors and how much investment have you brought here from abroad? Since 2018, more than 500 investors who have invested $500,000,000 into Georgia and the Georgian economy.
Where are those investors mostly from? Mostly they come from Arab countries because there are obvious cultural ties and it is easier having had experience in the past with them. It is pertinent to also note that some investors have been from the U.S. and Europe.
How would you assess the business environment in Georgia? What needs to improve to attract more foreign investors?
I feel comfortable when communicating with the government. Everything is clear. Everything works according to the rules in our case, which is the main reason why I initially chose Georgia as a country to do business in. You can register a company here in 20 minutes, which is impossible where I come from! In Arab countries registering a company takes around 3-4 months.
What are your plans in Georgia? Are you going to invest in any other directions?
The plans for Georgia are ambitious: to become one of the top five biggest investors in the country. That is why it is essential to concentrate not only on real estate. OTI Holding Group’s aim is not only to make profit, but also to help the country to develop. When investors come here and spend money, it benefits Georgia.
We do have a number of real estate projects in the pipeline, as well as some in the education realm and in the tourism sector too. A resort in Asureti – a German village in Georgia – will be built. There is a big plot of land here and it made sense to use the space to build a resort. This resort will have a distinctive concept and it will be unique in this country. I cannot tell you too many details now, as it is a secret. But what you can know is that we will have twelve unique features. This project is ongoing, and some construction work has been done.
In addition, there is a project in Rustavi, which will be a complex of villas. The designs are done and construction will start in December 2020. As for investment, the Asureti project will cost $12 million, and the Rustavi project will cost a maximum of $3.5 million.
And my last question is about CSR. You have quite a lot of experience in this. What does OTI Holding Group do in terms of corporate social responsibility in Georgia?
Our company permanently financially supports projects aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle, especially among young people. OTI Holding Group also funds the Judo Federation and helps young athletes with their career development.