In the early 1500s, at the period known as the Age of Exploration, King Francis I of France sent navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano on a mission to North America in search of new land and wealth. Verrazzano’s voyage to North America brought him to New York Harbor. History seems to gleefully repeat itself five centuries later with French real estate development firm Vinci Immobilier’s expedition to New York in search for new real estate technology and a new economic model for a real estate development firm.
In an attempt to understand New York’s PropTech scene, Vinci Immobilier, a subsidiary of one of the world’s largest construction companies, participated in a five-day “Learning Expedition.” The multi-day event was put on by Schoolab, a France-based innovation studio that houses a range of programs from accelerator programs for startups to intrapreneurship and hackathons programs for corporate clients.
Learning Expedition Manager at Schoolab Ruben Fitoussi planned the trip to New York over a period of four months. For Schoolab, traveling to New York was no easy feat. It was Schoolab’s first trip to New York and the first time that they had consulted for a client in the real estate development industry. Schoolab’s goal was to quickly introduce the 23-person delegation from Vinci Immobilier to the relevant players in the PropTech scene. Schoolab first began with an initial list of over 150 real estate-related companies. They then shortlisted 20 companies.
Fitoussi shared that Tel Aviv was also the other destination that they considered. However, New York’s reputation as the PropTech capital of the world tipped their decision toward choosing New York over Tel Aviv. Upon further comparison of the potential travel destinations, Fitoussi found that more of the built environment startups in Tel Aviv were developing smart city technologies rather than PropTech. Fitoussi also discovered that more of New York’s PropTech startups have progressed beyond the research and development stage and had readily deployable solutions to some of the real estate industry’s thorniest problems.
Keeping the tightly scheduled trip organized, Fitoussi planned each day of the trip around a theme. For the first day, it was “Discovering the Smart City,” where they met with the New York City Economic Development Corporation, Sidewalk Labs and MetaProp NYC. On the second day, it was “Innovative Tools in Real Estate Development,” where the Vinci Immobilier delegation met with Envelope. “Exploring Ideas in Co-working and Co-living” was the theme for the third day, where they met with WeWork and Outsite. On the fourth day, Vinci Immobilier explored “The Developer’s Evolving Economic Model” with Uber, RealConnex, Compass, and ShelterZoom. On the final day, the theme was “The Transformation of the Enterprise,” where they met with IBM and Meetup. As part of their Learning Expedition, Vinci Immobilier executives also engaged in design thinking workshops.
Through the Learning Expedition, Innovation Director at Vinci Immobilier Diego Harari hopes that the delegation will have a renewed sense of strategy and vision for the traditionally-run real estate development firm. Before the trip, executives at Vinci Immobilier never fully contemplated what it means to be a real estate development company of the future, Harari noted. He further added that executives don’t spend their days thinking about how technology can disrupt each function of the real estate development business and process. Although the threat of technology and new PropTech startups will not be immediately felt in the French real estate market, Harari said that Vinci Immobilier needs to “be as prepared as possible for any disruption.”
Compared to New York, France’s PropTech sector is still very much in its infancy. According to Harari, the main reasons are Paris’ relatively small real estate market and the city’s fledgling startup ecosystem. Venture capital funding does not come easy for French PropTech startups. However, the culture is slowly shifting as Harari is witnessing the French tech community’s newfound optimism in President of France Emmanuel Macron’s push for a more robust tech ecosystem.
If a French real estate development firm has the foresight and ingenuity to travel to New York in search for new real estate technology, what are the Manhattan-based firms with all the resources in their backyard doing to answer “What is the real estate development firm of the future?”