It’s common knowledge by now that venture capitalist investments in real estate technology have grown exponentially, totaling at over $2 billion in New York alone, according to a report from CREtech.
Property technology firms, also known as Proptech, are helping businesses use technology to improve the way we buy, sell, design, build and manage commercial properties — often with a focus on improving buildings, making them consume less energy and be more sustainable. Proptech, as we know it, is changing the real estate sector in incredible ways, whether it’s measuring our energy consumption, ordering a prefab smarthome for delivery online or simply digitally browsing properties through an app.
Among the leaders is MetaProp, a venture capitalist firm focused on the PropTech industry. It was founded in 2015, and the VC firm has invested in over 150 tech companies in real estate (MetaProp also runs PropTech Place, a coworking space in Midtown Manhattan that brings together PropTech VCs, startup founders, mentors, and the MetaProp Accelerator at Columbia University).
Maureen Waters is a partner at MetaProp. She works with the partners and portfolio companies, leading the growth of MetaProp’s innovation by helping the firm’s limited partners build their PropTech ecosystems.
She also helps prepare businesses for sale. With a background in commercial real estate, she was the president of Ten-X, the largest CRE marketplace, which was backed by Google Capital, and was previously the head of real estate and asset management at Bill Gates Investments. For 15 years she was also the Chief Strategy Officer at Cushman & Wakefield, a CRE services firm with its headquarters in Chicago.
According to Waters, investment in climate tech is growing, as the funding levels in 2021 is 10 times the amount than it was five years ago. The average deal size has quadrupled. But while some of the highest investment areas include mobility (making travel more sustainable), the lowest area is the built environment (how climate change affects energy consumption in our work and living spaces).
With climate tech on the rise, that means more cleantech. According to a cleantech report from PricewaterCooper, $87.5 billion was invested in climate tech in the first half of 2021, doubling the investment in climate tech than the year before.
Waters spoke to Leverage.com about giving back, a few key firms from MetaProp’s portfolio and how the firm helped one Japanese corporation turn to using smart glass on all their buildings.
How did you get involved with MetaProp as a partner?
I have known Aaron Block, the co-founder and managing partner of MetaProp since 2000, when he first joined Cushman & Wakefield as a broker, where I was the head of business development. We have kept in touch over the years.
After selling Ten-X to CoStar, I started a new endeavor with a group of senior executives from Ten-X and worked with MetaProp to invest in the business when the pandemic hit. We paused the business, as it was transactional, and I then joined MetaProp to help Aaron grow the business.
What’s the most exciting part of your job, about innovation?
The most exciting part of my job is twofold. Firstly, helping our investors assess, select, pilot as well as deploy technology. Secondly, helping our startups understand investors’ pain points and how they can help them. In tandem, developing growth plans to help our startups scale their businesses.
You have been honored with awards and are recognized as a leader for women in real estate. Ddo you think there needs to be more women in leadership roles in the industry?
Yes, we were making good progress prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, women have struggled recently with homeschooling their children, just as they’re working from home themselves. Many women have exited the workforce to manage the children and the changes to working requirements.
How do you give back, when it comes to leadership in real estate?
I give back by supporting organizations like Girls, Inc. and APF, the Autism Partnership Foundation. I have also actively mentored young leaders to pay it forward. Each year, I select a handful of mentees to mentor. This year I have six mentees; two are in proptech, two are in real estate, while two outside of real estate and tech.
What insights came from your recent annual Limited Partners Meeting?
Image Provided by MetaProp | The annual MetaProp partner’s meeting.
As part of its annual Limited Partners Meeting, MetaProp hosted more than 100 of its limited partners for its annual event. MetaProp also recently hosted its annual meeting, this time under a hybrid format, including a Firm Update, a Market Update, a Fund Updates, as well as Portfolio Company CEO Presentations and concluded with two breakout sessions.
The first session, titled “The Potential of Web3 and Real Estate” was hosted by MetaProp’s associate director of innovation services, Safi Aziz who was joined by Not Boring’s Packy McCormick. The second session, “Climate Tech and The Built World,” was hosted by myself and Denise Chan, Director of Sustainability and Climate Change at PwC.
How will MetaProp work on sustainability in 2022?
We provide enrichment regularly on sustainability and climate tech for our limited partners, along with assessments, pilots and deployment of technology for building management, energy, materials, and reporting. Most recently, we were selected to address Microsoft’s customers and partners during a COP26 Microsoft Webinar on Sustainability in the Built Environment.
MetaProp also advises our Limited Partners on their sustainability goals—for example, we advised the Japanese trading company, Sumitomo Corporation, while on their operational review of their portfolio, to assess the market for tech that could meet their sustainability goals. Sumitomo selected to use View Glass, a type of smart glass that uses AI to adjust shade depending on the time of day, in all their industrial assets in Japan.
How do you invest in sustainability?
MetaProp invests in sustainability tech. We help make introductions through our Sustainability Portfolio Companies to our Limited Partners for consideration, including companies like BluePrint Power, Enertiv, Switch Automation, Connect Homes and Juno. Internally, MetaProp has designated an Environment, Social, and Governance Council at MetaProp, which is focused on incorporating environmental and social matters into our strategy and long-term goals. Our ESG Council is responsible for defining our approach to ESG initiatives, as well as ensuring systemic integration of ESG into the way we conduct business.
How did MetaProp’s ESG Council change what you do internally?
In 2021, the team performed an audit of our firm’s guidelines, including the employee handbook, to assess our internal policies. We also assessed the state of ESG initiatives in our portfolio and investment strategy and our community outreach activities. We audited our formal and public participation in external programs that directly or indirectly benefit initiatives related to environmental preservation, social justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, and fair and compliant methods of governance.
A Brief List of Sustainability Companies in MetaProp’s Portfolio
Image provided by MetaProp | The view from MetaProp’s offices.
A full-service company that helps buildings become more sustainable. They bring clean energy and grid power into commercial buildings. In their own words: “We are a full-service technology partner that opens the energy marketplace to real estate owners and transforms the built environment into a flexible power network.”
A software company that transforms CRE building data into asset value. In their own words: “Commercial real estate is becoming increasingly difficult to operate as rising expectations from tenants and investors compound an aging workforce and siloed technology adoption. Enertiv makes portfolios more competitive with an easy-to-deploy and connected platform.”
A software firm that helps commercial buildings digitally audit their energy consumption, while helping them become low carbon. In their own words: “Transform your business to be data-centric, creating new revenue models, driving productivity and unlocking cost savings.”
Helping homeowners remodel their homes into smart homes through a series of smart, prefab dream homes that are easily built for the everyday homeowner. The company helps design, manufacture and install their Connect Homes, using their smart delivery system. In their own words: “Basically, it’s a beautiful product, but done in a way that disrupts and transforms the way homes are built. We build modules the size of a shipping container, so we can connect to the regular intermodal shipping network,” said the company’s founder Greg Leung.
An integrated design and product company that is creating a new type of apartment building for the future of American cities. They’ve built a trail-blazing end-to-end platform to connect and streamline the entire real estate development process, from design to construction and management of low-energy consumption properties. In their own words: “We’re introducing new materials like mass timber to the structure of our buildings, creating highly insulated exterior walls to minimize energy loss, installing energy-efficient systems, and eliminating natural gas from our buildings entirely.”