Courtney Cooper is the Director of Corporate Development at Toronto-based Alate Partners, one of the newest companies focused on accelerating the development and adoption of technology for the real estate industry. The first thing that struck me when I met her is that she doesn’t fit the typical mold for someone in her position. I am not just talking about the fact that she is young and a woman. I am more referring to the fact that she doesn’t have the typical self-referential conversational habits of most PropTech investors who are robotically programmed to hit their talking points. In fact, when my wife, daughter and I had the pleasure of sitting next to her at a PwC sponsored dinner at New York Real Estate Tech Week she ended up asking more questions about us than talking about her new company or the $40 million injection in funding that it recently received.
If Courtney doesn’t seem like the typical PropTech venture investor it is probably because Alate isn’t isn’t the typical proptech investment firm. In fact, they are not an investment firm at all. Alate is a standalone company formed through a partnership between one of Canada’s largest real estate development and management firms, Dream, and Relay Ventures, an established Venture firm that raised its third fund at $150 million in 2016. As Courtney explained, “Both have provided capital, resources, and access to their talent, expertise, and network.” As to the strategic direction she said, “We’re starting with investments, but Alate will evolve based on the market opportunity. For example, we could partner with real estate companies and tech entrepreneurs to build a solution for a gap in the market or take a larger ownership stake.”
Dream is a very unique real estate firm. It has around $14 billion under management and a very unique set of values:
The commitment to doing good isn’t just talk. Dream is one of the only real estate firms I know that also has a renewable energy investment portfolio. This kind of conscientious thinking has trickled into this technology-focused venture, Alate Partners. As Courtney told me, “We spend most of our time indoors: in our homes and workplaces. By investing in technologies that improve how we develop, operate, and use real estate, we can also improve the quality of life in our communities, while reducing our environmental impact. For example, hardware and software solutions that optimize energy use and help discover problems early can lower utility and maintenance bills and improve temperature, airflow, and comfort in buildings.”
While not built in the typical mold of PropTech venture investor, Courtney seems perfect for her role at Alate. She has experience in real estate (she worked her way up from receptionist at a condo’s sales center) and spent her last few years leading business transformation and innovation projects at Dream. She also has a passion for giving back. She told me “I have always had a deep passion for mentoring others, and my philanthropic work focuses primarily on those types of programs. While at university, I volunteered with an after-school program for court-involved adolescents, which provided homework support, skill development, and mentorship. I currently participate in a monthly mentorship program run by the Youth Empowerment Services.”
Alate will utilize Dream to identify problems in need of fixing and to help scale these solutions. Their other partner, Relay Ventures, will help with the technology side of the operation. “Our strong relationship with Relay Ventures exposes the Alate team to broader trends in technology and consumer preferences shaping adjacent industries, such as financial services, connected consumer products, and transportation,” Courtney said. She sees a lot of opportunity around the way technology is helping buildings become more efficient, reducing waste in construction and utilizing space to its fullest potential. All of these are profitable endeavors but tellingly they all have a positive impact environmentally and socially.
Making money will always be a large part of what any investment company does. But it doesn’t have to be the only part. Since 40% of energy usage and around 40% of all landfill waste are from the built environment PropTech can really move the needle on how the world uses its resources. Technologies are being developed now that can help the real estate industry be more sustainable as well as profitable. All it takes are a few people like Courtney who see the importance of investing in and focusing on what matters: creating health and prosperity through the buildings that we all live our lives in.