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How Australia’s cities of the future will be shaped by real estate technology startups

December 4, 2017

Startups offering tech solutions to the real estate industry are at the centre of the smart city revolution. Photo: Peter Rae

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.

Developer Mulpha's vision of a smart city in Sydney's north-west with public Wi-Fi and driverless shuttle buses. Photo: Supplied Developer Mulpha’s vision of a smart city in Sydney’s north-west with public Wi-Fi and driverless shuttle buses. Photo: Supplied

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.”

Bike-sharing programs are an early example of a smart city solution. Image: Paul Braven/AAP Bike-sharing programs are an early example of a smart city solution. Image: Paul Braven/AAP

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.

Matt Pope says SpaceConnect has a role in building smart cities of the future. Photo: Supplied Matt Pope says SpaceConnect has a role in building smart cities of the future. Photo: Supplied

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.”

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