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What Do Judges Look For in a PropTech Startup Competition?

Every industry is looking for the “next big thing.” That is one of the reasons, besides networking and expensed trips to (mostly) sunny places, that conferences exist. When it comes to technology the “next big thing” is often the “next big disruptor.” Knowing what companies are seen as poised for growth can be a great way to identify disruptive trends and possible partners to stay ahead of them. This has caused an explosion in start-up competitions at tech conferences in every industry.

PropTech events have adopted this theme. There are a number of large events that include start-up competitions, one of the biggest being MIPIM PropTech’s global startup roadshow. Every year they pick winners from three events, Paris, New York and Hong Kong, that will go on to compete at their huge 4-day conference in Canne, France. This summer, the first leg in Paris was held and the two winners were announced: AskPorter and Mayordomo.

These two companies are quite different, as was the entire field of competitors. AskPorter is a AI-driven property management platform while Mayordomo is a smart storage and delivery locker system. Since there is a lot of prestige that comes with these awards and many startups spend a lot of their precious time and money preparing and presenting to judges, I wanted to better understand why some companies take home the competition prizes while others don’t. Most of the time, there is little followup after the awards are given so companies in the competition and spectators in the audience are never given explanations for the final decisions.

First, I went to the winners directly. I sat down with the presenters and asked them one important question: “Why do you think that you won?” 

Curran McKay, Chief Commercial Officer of AskPorter had this to say:

Tomás Selva, CEO of Mayordomo, gave this explanation about his opinions on his company’s fresh win:

While it is important to get an opinion from the winners themselves, in the end why a company thinks they should win is not always the same as why the judges voted for them. So, I reached out to a few of the judges for this competition. The first was Julia Arlt, head of global digital real estate for PwC. She told me that one of her main considerations was an obvious need for the product. Mayordomo stood out to her in this respect, “I think about myself as a working mom and it just made a lot of sense. I need to be able to get deliveries even if I live in a larger building.”

Beyond that, she likes to see a team with a strong background in both real estate and tech. “You can’t outsource everything in tech, you need to have some in-house,” she told me. She also mentioned funding as an important factor but she did not consider it the most important by far.  

Then I talked to Taylor Wescoatt, the head of real estate tech investing at Concrete VC. He likes to look for “a well-articulated view of the future of the business and how it delivered value to their real estate clients.” He too downplayed the importance of VC funding but he did say that it did have a strong correlation to how advanced a business is. In his mind being further along the path to a fully developed company helps in these competitions as well. 

Interestingly, I did not hear much, or anything really, about the presentation itself. I think a lot of startups think that if they can get their slide deck more appealing and their pitch more refined, it should help tip the scales. Being professional is a must when going in front of a sophisticated audience and an expert panel of judges but this effort might be better spent getting the business model in order than obsessing over every chart and bullet point. 

Startup competitions are here to stay. They are a great way for the industry to stay informed about the new entrants in the space and can be a great marketing tool for young companies that need any help that they can get. So understanding what it is that makes a startup a celebrated winner versus a forgotten loser is important. Either way, spending time articulating what your company’s value is to a room full of strangers is never a bad skill to have for people growing a small business.

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