In 2013, Tom Bretz and Adam Freeman, operators of Century 21 Affiliated’s Chicago office, began receiving opportunities to invest in disruptive technology targeted for the real estate industry. They used those offers as the impetus to create the first seed-stage real estate and housing technology accelerator in the country, dubbed Elmspring.
Headquartered in Chicago, their organization brings together real estate professionals and technology startups through the Elmspring Accelerator. The three-month program invests in early-stage companies with leading-edge ideas for real estate and housing technology.
“Any time you increase innovation in an industry, you benefit the market as a whole,” Bretz said. “Technology makes it easier for your audience to find you and your offerings, it makes it easier for them to find what they need in an efficient manner and it makes it easier for you to engage with them. We can help make that happen faster.”
Those accepted into the curriculum-intensive program receive $20,000 in cash and mentorship from leaders in real estate, technology and business development, as well as access to office space in Chicago’s digital technology hub, 1871 Chicago. The technology accelerator provides startups with a comprehensive course load, guides them through investment meetings and connects them to the real estate world. The three months end with Demo Day, when each company has the opportunity to pitch its product to accredited investors.
Elmspring has set itself apart from like-minded groups because of the types of companies with which it chooses to partner. “We distinguish ourselves by establishing one very important selection criteria: we only accept companies that we know we can help,” Bretz said. “Each company selected into our program is graded against a set of selection criteria that includes the leadership ability of their CEO, the market size of the product or service, the technology being created, and the rationality of the business plan itself. At the end of that, we ask ourselves if they meet these criteria, and then we ask ourselves if there is something that we can do to actively accelerate that company during our program.”
Elmspring’s portfolio currently includes 12 innovative real estate concepts. Among these is ReaLync, “a real time video platform that connects agents and consumers to tour real estate.”
On the horizon are three apps currently completing Elmspring’s program. Property Carnivores, a lead generation tool, helps agents effectively engage with their Twitter followers. Alpha Lead, another lead generation tool, features “real-time, geo-targeted leads.” And CondoGrade provides a rating of a condo association’s financial health to help real estate professionals evaluate, price, market and finance condo units.