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By John Millett ’21
Seeking to learn more about one of the United States’ most dynamic real estate markets, the Columbia Business School Real Estate Association (REA) traveled to Austin, Texas on November 4 and November 5 for its fall trek. Over the two days, 25 students, Executive in Residence Leanne Lachman and Managing Director of the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate Kristin Svenningsen met with seven businesses operating across the real estate value chain. During the meetings, the group learned how investing strategies are evolving to mitigate cycle risk and how technology is beginning to reshape the industry.
After a breakfast meeting and student presentation on Austin market dynamics, the group headed to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, where we were hosted by Elliot Fry ’18. During our meeting, Fry and three colleagues, including Senior Director of Real Assets Grant Walker, detailed Teachers’ increasing focus on direct principal investments as a source of higher returns as well as highlighting Teachers’ growing investments in single-family rental homes.
Next, the REA headed to Juniper Square, where we met with Tyler Martin, Sarah DeCamp, Carrie Frugé, and Nate Kania. Juniper Square is a software startup that provides a suite of fundraising and fund reporting products tailored to the real estate industry. Since its 2017 product launch, Juniper Square has seen its clients manage and track the progress of 20,000 discrete property investments worth more than $25 billion on its platform. Though she could not make the meeting, thank you to Cindy Lin ’18 for arranging the REA’s visit.
Taking a slight detour from real estate, the trek’s third meeting was with the management team of the SH 130 Concession Company, which operates a 41-mile portion of State Highway 130 as a toll road. Constructed as a public-private partnership and opened in 2012, SH 130 has struggled with lower-than-expected utilization. During our meeting, newly appointed CEO Tyler Duvall and his team discussed the challenges and opportunities that come with operating infrastructure in partnership with both state and federal agencies and highlighted some of their efforts to increase traffic.
The last meeting of the day was with Virtus Real Estate Capital, where we were hosted by CFO Will Strong ’98 and his colleagues Zach Mallow and Kevin White. Virtus is a real estate private equity firm that invests in non-traditional assets such as senior living, medical office, student housing, self-storage and workforce housing. As Strong and his team explained, these non-traditional assets not only have less cyclical cash flows but also low correlations with traditional real estate, allowing Virtus to deliver superior risk-adjusted returns to its investors.
The first day wrapped up with a student and alumni happy hour hosted by the Paul Milstein Center and Columbia Business School Alumni Relations at the Dogwood Rockrose. Over the course of the evening, the students and Austin-based CBS alumni were able to connect overs drinks and appetizers.
Day two began with a visit to Pennybacker Capital. Founded by Tim Berry ’13, Pennybacker invests across a variety of real estate asset classes in growing second-tier cities. During our meeting, Sam Fenwick ’18 and Sam Mysock highlighted Pennybacker’s strategy investing in market-rate affordable multifamily, senior and market-rate affordable age-restricted multifamily, retail, office, and industrial assets in sustainable U.S. growth markets. They utilize high quality data analyses, and a myriad of other tools and analytics to identify key investment themes and use that information to target mismanaged, undercapitalized, or undervalued properties and debt positions.
From Pennybacker, the REA went to visit the 10-acre Center for Social Innovation campus. Developed by Notley Ventures, the 150,000 SF development offers both coworking and dedicated space to socially-minded enterprises. During our tour, Katrina Tolentino and Sarah Crowson talked about how the Center has helped to foster collaboration among its tenants while also insulating them from affordability issues.
The final meeting of the trip was with hospitality startup The Guild. Founded in 2016, the Guild “turns upscale apartments into tech-enabled hotel suites.” After touring a property with Sam Hollin and Robert Mendoza, the REA went to Guild HQ where we met with cofounder Brian Carrico and learned how The Guild is building its business with both leisure and corporate travelers and working with developers to create projects that can accommodate both traditional multifamily and the Guild’s hotel concept.
Extending a special thank you to our company hosts as well as to Tricia Philip-Rao, Assistant Director of the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate for making the trip a success. Leah Zulkoski ’20 and John Millett ’21, VP and AVP for Trips respectively, organized the trek.
John Millett ’21 is a member of the Columbia Business School Class of 2021 focusing on Real Estate Finance. Prior to CBS, John spent four years working as a research analyst at Kynikos Associates, a short-focused hedge fund, where he primarily covered companies in the TMT and consumer sectors. Originally from Atlanta, John graduated from the University of North Carolina with a BS in Business Administration and BA in History. John is a Columbia Fellow at CBS.