LandGate’s Yoann Hispa: Renewables Are Driving Sales of Land Resources
His ‘Zillow of land resources’ connects owners with energy companies and investors
Yoann Hispa has set a pretty high bar for himself and his company, LandGate: finding the best and highest use for landowners’ properties, as well as for the energy companies and investors looking to lease or buy their land, while aspiring to create a greener environment.
Founded in 2016, the Denver-based LandGate provides data comparing the long-term value of solar, wind, and oil and gas carbon offsets, as well as other resources, for every parcel of land in the United States, according to the company. In doing so, LandGate is “at the intersection of proptech and cleantech,” said Hispa, its CEO, and maybe climate tech, too.
Hispa spoke to PropTech Insider in late June about how his startup’s technology and data are making the land business more efficient, and possibly greener. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Commercial Observer: Do you consider LandGate a proptech company?
Yoann Hispa: I consider it at the intersection of proptech and cleantech. What we’ve done is brought the entire energy and carbon market to where it belongs: commercial real estate. We’ve automated the data and digitized it to make it much more digestible for commercial real estate.
How does LandGate do that?
I like to compare us to a Navy SEAL team. We have 25 employees. They are highly efficient and we work extremely well as a team. Our coders and developers are ex-DOD [Department of Defense], and ex-three letters I cannot say. They told me if I say it they will slap my hand. [Laughing].
We have over 200 sources of data, all of them public. All the states’ ISOs, RTOs, utility companies; USDA on the federal level; and more local levels of these agencies. We collect 2.5 terabytes of data and we generate an additional nine terabytes of analytics from those 2.5 terabytes. We’ve completely automated pulling the data from the sites and automated the analytics that we create from those.
Who are your clients?
I compare LandGate to Zillow for land resources. The difference is the buyers are you and I on Zillow, but on LandGate the buyers and our clients are corporations in energy, developers, operators, and private equity investors. On the other side we have landowners. Everything they get from us is free. The landowners need to access the data, and we need them to generate the leads. So we’re not making money off landowners.
Then we have specialized land real estate agents. There are only about 4,000 to 5,000 in the U.S. These are the guys that we use as a springboard to bring the information to landowners and they are also our clients: National Land Realty, Peoples Company, Keller Williams Land. The energy, carbon and resource markets in the U.S. is a $4 trillion to $5 trillion annual market.
The landowners and real estate agents are on one side. Then we have all the buyers and users of our data. These are the individual traders and investors. We sell them licenses to our data, to our economic SaaS [software as a service] tools, licenses to access the leads that we generate. We are climate tech that’s linking to the real estate business.
Prior to co-founding LandGate, you spent 17 years in investing, focused on the energy and carbon industry. What led you to being a proptech CEO and how did you fund your startup?
When I started the company in 2016, I had done very well working for energy operators. I did even better working with private equity. I reinvested all of that money into creating LandGate and you know how it goes: You want to invest X and you end up having to put five times more in to make the business work, and it takes you twice as long. But it took a lot more money. I didn’t pay myself for four years. I had to dig deeper and deeper and deeper every time. So the first four years were pretty rough in terms of work and pay. My wife is a saint.
How do you value land for the highest and best use of its resources?
For example, what is the potential value of a 100-acre piece of land in the U.S. for a solar farm? Or for a potential wind farm, or for carbon credits? Normally it takes weeks of data collection and engineering work to determine. We’ve completely digitized that for 172 million parcels in the U.S. We have the potential value for a solar farm, a wind farm, a carbon credit potential value, water rights, land, agricultural value, every resource on the land.
We digitize the data and the economics to get an estimated potential value for that resource. So a lot of work went into that. That’s the cleantech part of our business, which we’ve translated into a proptech value for every parcel in the U.S. for every resource.
Is LandGate agnostic as to who uses your data? If Big Oil wants to use your data to drill and use fossil fuels more, is that an issue? Or do you lean toward cleaner energy resources that counter climate change?
We are agnostic, which leads us into a much more repeatable and trustable presentation of the data. And the data we present leads to cleaner climate investments. This is how we help work toward climate goals. I’ll give you an example. I’m a European and I’m an American. I’ve worked in nine countries. I’ve seen it all from communist to very capitalist because I’ve worked in all those places. We have liberal California developers and we have very conservative guys working with landowners. Our company’s policy is we need to respect everyone’s opinion because we need everyone, and everyone is part of the solution. So that’s how we present as a company. We want everyone to work together.
I don’t think I’m going to upset anyone by saying landowners are typically very conservative. By presenting them an agnostic view of the land, with all the values, increasing the mineral values of their lands, it gives them confidence in what we’re presenting. But over 95 percent of our business is coming from renewable income.
So, even with oil prices high, your clients mostly don’t see a future in leasing or buying land for fossil fuel drilling?
There’s no money, no investment for that. The LPs, the very rich people in private equity, say “I want ESG criteria attached to my cash. I’m putting that money into renewable energy.” Three years ago 95 percent of our revenues were coming from oil and gas. Right now it’s completely flipped: 95 percent renewables.
In recent years, European countries like Germany have been criticized for closing their nuclear power plants, particularly in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Do you think there’s a future for nuclear energy as a safe carbon-zero resource for the U.S.?
I grew up between Spain and France. In France, for the last 40 to 50 years, 85 percent of the electricity has been produced by nuclear power. There’s never been an accident, knock on wood. But that’s where I’m coming from.
Every generation you have new energy sources popping up. I do think at some point fusion is going to come into play. But, as a parent, the radioactive byproducts of fission nuclear energy worry me. I do think we’re going to head toward nuclear. I don’t think renewables can help us enough. There will undoubtedly be another energy source coming up.
Philip Russo can be reached at email@example.com.