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ProptechTO launches at TWG

TWG hosts an impressive debut event for the Toronto Property Tech community

While North America’s fintech scene boasts a well-established ecosystem of enterprise, startups, vendors and VC investment, the commercial real estate (CRE) sector has been a digital laggard. Yet the opportunities are obvious. Real Estate is a highly transactional, multi-trillion dollar business ripe for disruption through digital efficiencies.

ProptechTO is a new technology community that aims to bring together key players in Toronto’s property tech industry – the builders, the startups and venture capital – and build on the impressive momentum from the past year. Traditional commercial real estate (CRE) firms like Colliers (whose partnership with Techstars is managed by ProptechTO panel moderator Ben Liao) and Brookfield, with a $300M Ventures fund, are placing big bets on tech. And they’re not alone. CB Insights reported a mere $221 million in property tech investment in 2012. Five short years later that investment shot up over 5000% to $12.6 billion according to a 2017 analysis by market research agency Re:Tech.

Video: ProptechTO highlights the opportunities in Property Technology

Last Wednesday’s inaugural ProptechTO event at TWG boasted a panel discussion with some of the key innovators in Toronto’s booming CRE market and demos from proptech startups Lane, Moregidge, Parkbench and MapYourProperty

Fueling the latest surge of interest in Canadian proptech is venture firm Alate Partners, which launched late last year with a $40M investment from Canadian real estate developer Dream and early-stage venture fund Relay Ventures. Courtney Cooper, Director of Corporate Development at Alate spoke on the ProptechTO panel and shared some thoughts on the opportunity in the real estate sector. “We’re looking for technology that is augmenting, enhancing or in some cases disrupting real estate, which is one of the largest asset classes in the world” says Cooper. “There’s a huge opportunity for technology to really change the way that the real estate industry is designed, built and managed.”

Representing enterprise investment and partnership in the property tech space was Maria Aiello, Global Head of Private Markets at Manulife, where she focuses on real estate tech for the insurance and financial services giant. “The end-to-end workplace experience is incredibly important”, says Aiello. “Everyone wants to become a employer of choice because it is a very competitive market. And the occupant experience, the employee experience is becoming very important. It’s the digital experience that is going to differentiate at that level.”

Panelists (L – R): Ben Liao (Techstars), Maria Aiello (Manulife), Jesse Abrams (Homewise), Courtney Cooper (Alate)

It’s hard to overstate the size of the opportunity within commercial real estate, and a surprising number of the large global players are based right here in Toronto. Colliers boasted $2.3B in revenue in 2107 from its global real estate services, which operates in 69 countries and maintains a workforce of more than 13,000 people. The aforementioned Canadian property development firm Dream has over $15B in assets under management across North America and Europe. Both are dwarfed by Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management, the largest CRE firm in the world with over $200B (yes, that’s Billion) in assets.

ProptechTO looks to be launching at exactly the right time. “This was the first [event] obviously,” said Map Your Property CEO Devin Tu, “and I was amazed. You had the ‘who’s who’ here, I saw some investors I’ve been talking to, some big developers, you had Alate Ventures, and Ben Liao, who is our Techstars project manager. Getting in on his schedule – that’s almost impossible. So that was pretty impressive.”

Jesse Abrams, CEO of online mortgage startup Homewise was equally impressed. “I was lucky enough to be part of the panel and speak to a really great group of people,” said Abrams. “And one thing I found, even after all the presentations, is everyone got up and started to talk to each other. I feel like this has started an amazing community in the tech space that doesn’t currently exist. So I’m so excited to come to more ProptechTO events, conferences, whatever they might be, to meet a ton of smart people and and be part of this awesome community.”

Check back with Proptech.TO soon for news of upcoming events and additional content from last week’s event.