Highly Qualified Activity
Fast tracked and priority residency for business professionals, SME's, entrepreneurs and innovators.

What is HQA Visa?

Empowered Startups’ HQA Visa Program is the only program for businesspeople, investors, entrepreneurs and SME’s looking to obtain fast-tracked priority residency in Portugal while also having exceptions to in country stay requirements. Endorsed by the Portuguese government, Empowered Startups’ has been trusted to find talent and skill to bring to Portugal through investing in innovative R&D and launching commercialization opportunity.

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How does the HQA Visa work?

Empowered Startups has been asked by the Portuguese government to vet, invite and concierge qualified professionals to invest in R&D projects within our trusted network of Portuguese University partners.

Founders invited to join the program also launch a new Portuguese business to commercialize R&D outcomes with the guidance of Empowered Startups’ expert business incubator.

As a trusted government partner, Empowered Startups’ clients have a fast and confident path to Portuguese residency and citizenship that otherwise is unattainable.

Portugal HQA Visa and Passport

WHY Empowered Startups’ HQA Visa program?

Only government endorsed HQA pathway for businesspeople, entrepreneurs, investors and SME’s

We have the trust of the University and R&D network to land projects

We have proven success

Designed specifically for accomplished businesspeople, investor-entrepreneurs, and domain experts

Smooth transition to a professional base of operations in the EU

More flexible and more cost-effective than alternatives

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Clear path to eligibility for permanent residency or citizenship


Empowered Startups Portugal, a recognized transnational business incubator, has partnered with public research institutions.

  • Paul Girodo
  • Chris Lennon
  • Kyle Kirkegaard
  • Filipe Galego
  • Francesco Berrettini
  • Paulo Martins
  • Sonny Rai
  • Alex Rodrigues
  • Hugo Barros

Paul Girodo

Empowered Startups - Co-Founder

Paul Girodo, MBA is expert in transnational entrepreneurship, scaling startups, and designing leading edge immigration products that deliver clear benefits to the governments, start-up ecosystems, and most importantly the citizens of countries accepting transnational business class migrants. As Co-Founder of Empowered Startups he helped build it into the largest deal flow provider to the Government of Canada’s Start-up Visa Program. He also leads Empowered’s delivery of new leading edge fast-track business investor class migration programs for entrepreneurs in Portugal and France with a growing number of established incubators in both countries. His industry interests range from combating human trafficking with his father (former Team Leader for INTERPOL Group of Experts on Corruption and Chief Human Factors Consultant in specialized drug and money laundering investigations with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) to deep tech and social venture enterprises. He is a shareholder and director of many Canadian, French, and Portuguese companies.

Chris Lennon

Empowered Startups - President & General Counsel

Chris oversees all international operations for Empowered Startups, working closely with the Board of Directors. Prior to taking on this role, Chris acted as Empowered’s primary legal counsel since the organization’s inception. During his tenure at a prominent law firm in Vancouver Canada, Chris advised technology companies, research organizations, and corporate boards.

Kyle Kirkegaard

Account Executive

With over 10 years of experience, I am passionate about empowering entrepreneurs and innovators to achieve their goals and create impact. As an Account Executive at Empowered Startups, I leverage my multidisciplinary experience to build strong relationships and deliver engaging and effective programs, workshops, and events for aspiring and established entrepreneurs across various sectors and regions. I collaborate with a diverse and dynamic team to identify and pursue new opportunities, partnerships, and markets, ensuring exceptional customer service and support for our clients and stakeholders. My focus on relationship building allows me to understand and meet the unique needs of each entrepreneur, fostering lasting connections and success.

Filipe Galego

Empowered Startups - Manager of Operations - Portugal

Filipe is responsible for coordinating the operational processes of Empowered Startups incubation programs in Portugal.

Prior to joining Empowered, Filipe was Manager of ÉvoraTech, the public incubator for the Alentejo region, in the center of Portugal. His work at Alentejo’s regional development agency ADRAL included travelling internationally to attract direct investment. As the regional facilitator for EU programming in EIT-KIC, Filipe also coordinated projects in efficient/renewable energy, agri-tech, and water management.

Filipe was previously in banking, as Branch Manager at Unicaja Bank (formerly Caja Duero), and Deputy Manager at Espirito Santo Bank.

Filipe holds a degree in Management, and is a semi-professional singer.

Francesco Berrettini

Empowered Startups - Manager of Partnerships & Projects - Portugal

Francesco is responsible for establishing and developing Empowered Startups’ partnerships and special projects in Portugal.

Prior to joining Empowered, Francesco was CEO of the Algarve Systems & Technology Partnership in southern Portugal. He assumed that regional leadership role subsequent to the sale of his award-winning marketing company Inesting to Digital Group. His previous experience includes due diligence in the investment banking sector, project management for the EU’s Business Innovation Centers, and strategy consulting services for both private and public organizations.

Francesco holds an MBA and is a certified Hubspot Inbound Marketing Consultant. He has served as Assistant Professor in Marketing & Management at the Catholic University of Portugal, and continues to teach at higher education institutions. He is also currently Honorary Consul for Italy, based in the Algarve.

Paulo Martins

Empowered Startups - Startup Leader - Portugal

Paolo is a digital transformation leader and expert with deep networks throughout Portugal and internationally in the innovation space. He is a co-founder, business executive, lecturer, mentor, and advocate for entrepreneurs and digital transformation.

Paulo is a Professor at Polytechnic Institute of Leiria lecturing in the areas of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Design Thinking and Digital Transformation. He is highly educated in innovation and startup methodologies, having designed graduate level Innovation and Entrepreneurship curricula. For over a decade he has been a guest lecturer on innovation and digital transformation. He is a certified business coach with certifications in startup methodologies (Scrum, Kaizen, Six Sigma) and complimentary experience advising organizations in methodology implementation.

Paulo holds deep and rich experience in the startup space as founder and leader in entrepreneur mentorship. He is the co-founder and non-executive leader at inCentea Group, based in South Africa, which provides consulting and design implementation of management systems for companies in the areas of product engineering, innovation, marketing and communication, management consulting and digital transformation. He is also a founder and board member of TICE Portugal, an organization that engages and mobilizes academia R&D departments, the business world, and affiliate networks throughout Portugal in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) initiatives. Paolo is also the Director of Startup Leiria, an organization partnered with Polytechnic Institute of Leiria that supports companies and entrepreneurs in creating value and growth using an agile and sustainable approach. He has served as an innovation consultant for several companies throughout his career including implementation of lean methodologies.

Sonny Rai

Empowered Startups - HQA Account Executive

Sonny’s role at Empowered is account executive for the Portugal HQA program. Sonny is an accomplished business development leader with over 15 years of experience in business development, sales, and capital markets advisory. Sonny has developed a strong skill set in maintaining long-term client relationships with the importance of building trust and creating mutually beneficial partnerships.

Sonny began his career in the financial technology industry, where he played a key role in scaling a start up to one of Canadas largest fintech company. Building on this success, Sonny transitioned to capital markets, where he has established himself as a trusted advisor to numerous start-ups, family offices, and publicly traded companies, working in various markets around the globe. With a deep understanding of both financial technology, capital markets, and regulations. Sonny brings a unique perspective and strategic insights to his role, enabling him to provide high-quality service to clients.

Alex Rodrigues

Brigantia Eco-Park Technology & Innovation Officer

Alex leads the operations of Brigantia-EcoPark, an IAPMEI-certified Start Up Visa incubator in northern Portugal, 90min outside of Porto. As a key co-creator of the Portugal HQA Visa protocol, he facilitates the partnerships with authorities and public bodies in Portugal. Empowered Startups first incubator in Portugal was launched within the well-appointed facilities of Brigantia-EcoPark.

Hugo Barros

CRIA - University of the Algarve Coordinator

Hugo leads the team at CRIA, the IAPMEI-certified Start Up Visa incubator of the University of the Algarve, on the southern coast of Portugal. Hugo maintains significant relationships with regional Portuguese authorities, and facilitates pan-Mediterranean collaborative projects.

A clear path to your future in Portugal

Partnerships Across Portugal