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New PropTech Challenge Opens up NYC Tech Ecosystem to Innovators Worldwide

Long before the expansion of New York’s PropTech sector, the Big Apple has been a global financial center for the last hundred and fifty years. There are many reasons for this, but one is that New York Bay is one of the largest natural harbors in the world. This led the area to be one of the prominent ports for bringing goods in and out of the new world. The area became even more of an epicenter for commerce when the Erie Canal was finished, connecting the Hudson River to the Great Lake system and catapulting the area’s population to the top spot in America, ahead of Philadelphia.

As the largest trade center in the country, Manhattan was one of the first places to have organized securities trading. Investment wealth has poured in ever since and a number of the country’s founding financial institutions clustered between the Hudson and the East Rivers. It is no surprise that the majority of the country’s major landowners are all centered around this Mecca of capitalism as well.

The concentration of real estate companies, the access to investment capital and a recent cultivation of technology talent have made New York the epicenter of PropTech innovation. Many technology companies servicing the property industry feel that they need a presence here in order to find the critical first large adoption. The concentration of tech companies, venture capital firms and top universities has also created a very active PropTech “scene” with events, get-togethers and happy hours almost every week.

But even though there can be great hubs for fostering emerging technologies, like New York or Silicon Valley, it doesn’t change the fact that innovation can come from anywhere. What good innovative cities do, which is described well in Brad Feld’s book Startup Communities, is have porous borders. This lets in the talent and ideas that naturally flow to these areas.

If there is one New York-based organization that has the most access to the leaders of top property and PropTech companies, it is the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). Started in 1896, REBNY has been the main real estate trade association in New York and has been a model for other similar organizations all over the world. REBNY’s Technology Committee is comprised of senior executives at some of the biggest property companies in the world including Silverstein Properties, Rudin Management Company, Newmark Knight Frank, Related Companies, Vornado Realty Trust, and The Durst Organization. REBNY’s technology committee was formed to help their members identify and evaluate new technologies to solve real-world problems.

As a  founding member of the REBNYTech Committee and CIO at Meridian Capital Sandy Jacolow puts it, “As a big organization we have a diverse perspective of the property industry, but we all have the commonality of knowing how important technology is for this industry to survive.” He said that the growing pace of innovation led members to start to ask for help understanding their full array of technology options, “It isn’t like the old days when you had a couple of large software companies and a choice of A, B or C. Systems are now  open and connected, it is about finding the tools that work together and provide insight into your assets .”

Plus, putting technology companies in front of REBNY members will only strengthen New York’s position as the go-to location for building a built world technology which, in the end, would benefit the real estate landscape. “I know in this day and age people are skeptical of altruistic goals but the truth is, we want to help the entire New York PropTech community.” To help connect the technology and property industries REBNY is hosting the PropTech Challenge following its first PropTech Hackathon last year.

While the 2017 hackathon was a huge hit for the participants and sponsors, the Technology Committee thought that they could do even more by opening up the submissions to a wider audience. “The idea started with a casual conversation with Duke Long and Ryan Baxter,” Sandy said, “We all just thought, ‘couldn’t we have anyone submit a video to be selected breaking down geographical boundaries?’” So this year’s Hackathon does just that. Teams will submit solutions for any of four categories: blockchain, operations & maintenance, commercial brokerage, or architecture, engineering & construction. They have an eight-week window to submit a video presentation, working software application, and written presentation demonstrating their solution, concepts, and business plan that ends Tuesday, October 16th.

Submissions will be judged by a panel of three general PropTech judges and four industry-specific judges for each category. The top three solutions in each category will be able to pitch their ideas live at a demo day, being coordinated by Sarah Harano of Silverstein Properties,  on November 8th during New York Real Estate Tech Week and have a chance to win a total of $50,000 in prize money. Sandy believes the value of this program goes way beyond the money being offered, “I don’t know of any other hackathon that will provide the level of mentorship and access to key decision makers that we will. We want to be able to provide education and awareness to everyone involved, hence we will be facilitating a lot of conversations with our participants and members.”

While the Bay Area has become known for its innovation economy, New York is still the place to be for large investors and property firms. With the help of organizations like REBNY and events like the PropTech Challenge, access to these big landowners, property managers and occupiers will strengthen the area’s position as “Silicon Alley” in the minds of innovators as the center of gravity for the growing PropTech innovation explosion.

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