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Real estate technology startups are the key to putting Australia’s cities on the same playing field as global smart cities such as London, Seoul and Singapore, where contactless public transport ticketing, bike-sharing and solar-powered self-compacting bins are the norm, experts say.
In Australia the move towards smart cities – where technology is integrated with infrastructure, the built environment and community services to solve social, economic and environmental problems – is gaining momentum.
But Johanna Pitman, program director at startup incubator BlueChilli, argues there is much more that can be done.
Ms Pitman, who directs the smart city-focused CityConnect program, has worked with dozens of startups with real estate-specific solutions that address issues in areas from workplace health and safety requirements to energy efficiency.
“Startups are a key enabler of smart cities, whether their solutions complement and improve existing business models, (like) office utilisation solutions, or they disrupt the market significantly, (like) WeWork, Zillow and Airbnb,” she said.
Technology providing solutions to real estate is at the centre of the smart-city revolution, she said.
“As our cities continue to experience increased density and the agglomeration of jobs, delivery of real estate technology and built-environment solutions are critical components in a well-functioning smart city,” she said.
“Real estate is such an important element of the Australian economy; it is the focus of significant investment, attention and wealth creation.
“Real estate technology is critical to reducing friction in the commercial market by increasing the speed of transactions, improving market transparency, enhancing asset utilisation, and adapting to evolving customer desires and regulatory requirements.”
She believes it is the fresh talents who will shape the future of our cities, thanks to their ability to think outside the box and “pounce on entrenched problems”.
“Incumbents are rarely able to disrupt themselves,” she said.
“Startups identify inefficiencies and areas of unmet customer demand, and are capable of rapidly bringing new solutions to market.”
One of these fresh talents is Matt Pope, founder of SpaceConnect, which provides real-time data for commercial office space usage and tenant behaviour. For users of the space, it automates desk and meeting room bookings, as well as blind and light control.
For example, the digital platform can guide users to the meeting room, automatically check them in at an available room, set up presentation displays and start video calls with participants when people enter the space.
Mr Pope believes real estate technology startups like SpaceConnect can make a difference in how smart cities are designed, with the insights they gain “beyond the office desk” from their use of data and internet-of-things technology.
“If you think about why thousands of people every day converge into a city at the same time and then leave again at the same time, the core of what they are doing is moving from one piece of real estate space (home) to the next (the office or co-working space),” he said.
“If cities could better understand when and why people are moving around our cities, we can really start to implement solutions that make our cities more liveable.”
Only 35 per cent of active ‘proptech’ startups are involved in the commercial real estate market, according to JLL research. This is especially the case in Australia thanks to a nationwide housing obsession.
But Mr Pope sees the real disruption opportunity in the commercial property sector.
“We’re seeing a lot more deals flow in the commercial proptech space globally and only see it getting larger over the coming years.”