CEO may be his official title, but Mark Bentley Holland has always felt more at home in his role as entrepreneur. Transitioning from an online travel start-up in Germany to founding Maltalingua School of English and now venturing into film production, he continues to steer his own entrepreneurial journey rather than conforming to more traditional leadership roles.

British by nationality and Maltese by birth, Mark Holland has always considered Malta his ‘spiritual home’. “My grandparents moved to Malta in the 60s, and along with my father, they built the original Ramla Bay Hotel in Marfa,” he shares. “Despite my family selling the hotel 30 years ago, the island has remained a key link throughout my various business ventures. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Backed by a UK degree in business IT and marketing, after a year of travelling the world, Mark headed home with a burning desire to achieve something. Leveraging his knowledge in web design and e-commerce, and his passion for digital marketing, he founded a home-based digital travel startup.

“When I started with online marketing, what I was selling was never really the primary focus; it was the potential that intrigued me. While in Germany at the time, I noticed a strong interest among German speakers wishing to travel to learn English, with many choosing Malta as their destination. This observation led me to develop an online booking platform, akin to a travel agency, connecting students to 42 international language schools. With Malta being the preferred destination for German speakers to learn English, the next step was almost inevitable,” Mark explains.

The platform gained significant success, becoming one of Germany’s largest language travel businesses.

What’s more, the business led Mark to another eureka moment. Observing the influx of students his platform was directing to other institutions, he realised he could replicate the same online marketing model but direct students to his own language school instead. Recognising the substantial demand for learning English in Malta, second only to the UK, Mark went on to launch the internationally acclaimed and award-winning Maltalingua School of English in St Julian’s.

Operating two fully-fledged schools and accommodating up to 450 students pose great challenges and require the utmost of responsibility. However, Mark found that with the right preparation, training, excellent teachers, and top management, he was able to turn this second business idea into another successful venture.

Reflecting on this shift, he emphasises: “unlike being solely an outgoing online travel agency located in Munich, as a school, we are also fully accountable to our predominantly European adult clients, and their expectations are high. For our junior market, we have earned the trust of agents and parents by providing a fully immersive learning holiday programme for children aged eight to 12 and teens aged 13 to 17. It is vital to ensure operations are well-prepared well in advance and meet the expectations of our predominantly adult Central European clients.

The school’s philosophy is to maximise the fully immersive learning experience, especially for juniors, and mitigate risk. The positive feedback and accolades indicate that students of all ages have a productive and enjoyable time in Malta, giving our team a real sense of accomplishment.”

The hard work and attention to detail from the start have paid off. Maltalingua has now positioned itself as a multi-award-winning school with the highest EAQUALS international accreditation in Excellence in Language Education. The school has consistently secured industry recognition, including four nominations for the Best Adult English Language School in Europe at the StudyTravel Star Awards UK, along with a two-year streak as the Best Junior Course for Under-18s worldwide.

Mark attributes these accomplishments, in part, to the school’s Principal, Tania Assuncao, who leads an excellent team with calm passion, vision and an incredible work ethic. He notes: “these are huge team achievements, and the key to this recognition comes directly from our students and peers, reflecting the hard work, passion and care to constantly improve standards. I am incredibly thankful and privileged to have such great colleagues to work alongside with.”

Now that Maltalingua is firmly established under capable management, currently overseeing its expansion into new premises, Mark, ever the entrepreneur, feels comfortable enough to shift his focus to one of his biggest challenges and passion projects – TV and film production. Speaking of his need to constantly shift gears, he explains: “simply maintaining a business isn’t sufficient for me. I crave the excitement of building and creating new projects that give me a sense of growth.”

This passion project has taken the form of Stream House Media Productions, affectionately known as SHriMP. Collaborating with his brother Dominic Holland, an established director of photography based in London, this family endeavour specialises in producing reality TV shows and docuseries. Mark, along with a talented creative team, is currently deep in postproduction of an innovative eight-part reality TV series called House of Streams, which was filmed and produced in Malta.

For the show, SHriMP flew in eight international streamers to live together in a lavish Mellieħa house, competing in a Big Brother-type format with a twist. What sets it apart is the contestants’ interactivity with the audience through the popular livestreaming platform Twitch. Broadcast live to a select audience, viewers’ comments actively shape the direction of the show and influence the challenges the streamers face as they compete to win a prize of 1 Bitcoin, currently valued at around €42,000.

“This has been, by far, my most challenging project yet. We produced the show with a quarter of the needed budget in under six months, requiring many corners to be cut. However, I strongly believe in the importance of being first to market in such an emerging and competitive field. Thankfully, as an entrepreneur, I don’t need to navigate through boards and persuade shareholders; I can make decisions quickly and have the freedom to act promptly on opportunities. When you have a product that is innovative and different from the competition, then you have a serious edge,” he explains.

The House of Streams Sales and Distribution team in Los Angeles is in discussions with major streaming services and is optimistic about the release of House of Streams in the spring of 2024. Expressing gratitude to the Malta Film Commission and the Maltese Government for their crucial support, Mark highlights Malta’s role in making this international project a reality and outlines plans to bring more productions to the island.

The aspiration is that House of Streams will serve as a launchpad for Stream House Media Productions, opening doors to investment and financial opportunities for additional docuseries. Mark reveals that the team has already met with potential investors in the crypto markets. They are also exploring the possibility of applying a similar format to the gaming industry. This move aligns with reports indicating that streaming content has now exceeded the combined value of the movie industries, establishing itself as the world’s largest entertainment sector.

“I tend to work in 10-year business cycles. First, it was a decade in digital marketing and building an online travel business, then another 10 years dedicated to building the language school business. Now, I’m embarking on this new 10-year journey in film production with Stream House Media Productions. Who knows what’s to come? But I’m genuinely excited to see the growth and evolution of this new venture,” he concludes.

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2024 – the sister brand to MaltaCEOs.mt and an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders

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