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By Conor O’Neill ’17
On April 6th, 2016, the Real Estate Association, with support from the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate, presented Columbia Business School’s second annual Real Estate Technology Panel. The event began with a networking reception for current students, alumni and industry participants to mix and mingle.
Next, Clelia Peters ’09, President of Warburg Realty and founder of Metaprop NYC, New York’s first real estate tech accelerator, and moderator of the panel, introduced the discussion as well as the four panelists; all founders and leaders in the real estate tech space. The panel included:
- Michael Mandel: Co-Founder & CEO, CompStak
- William Skelley: Founder, Chairman & CEO, iFunding
- Pete Alden: Vice President of Sales, Floored
- Alec LeFort: Regional Director, Business Development, VTS
Conor O'Neill ’17, Camila Grello ’16 (organizers), Alec LeFort, Pete Alden, William Skelley, Clelia Peters ’09 & Michael Mandel
The discussion touched on many topics, one of which was the challenge of instituting change in an industry that has been slow to adopt new technology. While the residential real estate space experimented with modern technology by way of platforms like Zillow and Trulia, the commercial space remained largely stagnant. Today, real estate technology firms, such as those represented by our panelists, have caused the commercial real estate industry to leap ahead.
The panelists all weighed in on the topic of entrepreneurship and the challenges of working at young companies. While the panelists noted that starting or joining a new company is risky and demanding, they were all happy with their decisions to follow a non-traditional route and pursue their passion for real estate technology. William Skelley discussed the difficult path by which he began iFunding, the regulatory environment that has led to the proliferation of crowdfunding platforms, and how iFunding has differentiated itself from other crowdfunding platforms.
A recurring topic was the future of the real estate brokerage industry. Several of the panelists started out as brokers and noted that their current companies were founded to address what they saw as inefficiencies in the real estate transaction process. Platforms like VTS offer real-time leasing and asset management data that streamline transaction and decision-making processes. CompStak offers a crowdsourced platform for exploring leasing comparables, creating a new level of transparency in the industry. Both Alec LeFort (VTS) and Michael Mandel (CompStack) discussed the impacts these changes will have on the industry and the role that brokers will play in the future.
Pete Alden discussed Floored’s new visualization platform, Luma, which utilizes virtual reality systems like the Oculus Rift to immerse users in three dimensional space. Floored is using Luma to allow architects, developers, and others to experience the look, feel, and scale of their projects before ever breaking ground.
The panel concluded with each of the panelists offering the students career advice and culminated with Q&A from the audience of students and alumni
Conor O’Neill ’17 is the AVP of Communications and Technology for the Real Estate Association and the Academic Representative of his cluster. Prior to Columbia Business School, he spent four years at Maida Engineering, where he designed mechanical and electrical systems for industrial and commercial clients. Conor graduated from Lafayette College, where he studied Mechanical Engineering.