How Project Destined’s Early Cohorts Are Changing the Face of Commercial Real Estate
The mentoring and internship program started in Detroit in 2016
When the film “Destined” by American filmmaker Qasim Basir came out in 2016, the Hollywood Reporter said the movie was fated for obscurity. But for Cedric Bobo, the film helped inspire a six-year effort to get young people of color into real estate.
As Bobo tells it, he arrived in Detroit two years after a career at private equity giant the Carlyle Group, with plans of opening a community center. After speaking with locals and watching “Destined” — which chronicles two possible parallel lives of a Detroit teenager — Bobo realized that he could construct more than just a building.
“What a Detroiter told me was, ‘Hey, Cedric, you made money by being an owner and buying stuff. Why aren’t you teaching our kids how to become owners?’” Bobo said. “That has been the singular thread through what we do. It has always been about teaching students how to become owners in their community.”
College and high school students in Bobo’s Project Destined learn to evaluate a property, its market and potential renovations, and how to finance an acquisition or redevelopment. Since its founding, Project Destined has trained more than 4,500 participants across the U.S., Canada and Europe, partnering with lenders and landlords including Tishman Speyer, Brookfield Properties, Vornado Realty Trust, Goldman Sachs, Eastdil Secured and the Real Estate Board of New York, according to its website. Students get a stipend to attend real estate classes and an introduction to a host of real estate executives who evaluate their performance during the course, while those owners get access to a massive talent pool of young professionals.
But while Project Destined has far outgrown its Detroit roots, all of its classes are modeled after its first class at Detroit’s Renaissance High School, where students were eager to understand the rapid development of their home city, Bobo said.
Detroit, like other Rust Belt metros hit hard by the 2008 economic recession, has been the target of significant outside investment, much to the concern of locals who worry they’ll be priced out of their neighborhoods. Investors looking to flip or rent out residences purchased 19 percent of homes sold in Detroit in 2021, more than the typical metro area and higher than its 2015 rate of 11 percent, The Washington Post reported.
“These students are watching this happen and are feeling not like participants, but more like victims,” Bobo said.
Through Project Destined, Bobo wants to create a new generation of real estate owners, like Matthew Kinsey, part of that first Project Destined class in 2016 in Detroit where students analyzed potential multifamily investment deals across the city.
“I knew I wanted to be in business for forever because my dad is in sales,” Kinsey said. “I was hungry for something that could give me a little guidance on how I could invest on my own. I think Cedric really gave me that guidance that I was looking for.”
Kinsey went on to do Project Destined’s college class while at Howard University in 2020, at one point even pitching his hypothetical investment property to famed ex-pro baseball player Alex Rodriguez, or A-Rod for short. Kinsey also worked at Goldman Sachs’ real estate financing group last summer, and scored an offer to return full time after he graduates next year, he said.
“If I didn’t do Project Destined … I don’t even know if I would have gone to Howard,” Kinsey said. “It kind of gave me the beginning path to decide what I wanted to do.”
Meanwhile, Ismael Almanzar, who joined Project Destined as a freshman at Bronx Community College in 2018 for its first New York City program, is already a part of a new generation of property owners. Almanzar, now a full-time JLL portfolio adviser, bought his first investment property in Harrisburg, Pa., this year — a three-bedroom home Almancar said he plans to keep for a long time. He also scored a scholarship through Project Destined’s partnership with the Miami Herbert Business School at the University of Miami to pay for his MBA in real estate.
“You may go work in property management or investment banking or asset management — you name it — but we’re teaching you how to become an owner through real estate,” Bobo said. “We have never strayed from that because I think it connects with people young and old.”
That mission also helps large companies recruit candidates who might not otherwise be exposed to commercial real estate, chipping away at the industry’s well-documented lack of diversity.
“It is definitely a mission that is necessary for the world because the real estate industry is a historically white, male-dominated space,” said Myles Franklin, an investment analyst at multifamily investment and management firm Cortland, who took Project Destined’s course the summer before he started school at George Washington University. “I don’t think that speaks negatively towards white males, but you typically gravitate towards people that are like you, so white males are going to gravitate towards white males. Therefore it’s important to put people that aren’t necessarily like them in front of them, and that’s women and people of color.”
The latest company to tackle that lack of diversity with Project Destined is Tishman Speyer. Roughly 50 students across colleges in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, London and Washington, D.C., will compete against each other to pitch on the acquisition and redevelopment of real buildings, and the landlord might even expand its partnership. That depends on how the course goes, said Joe Ritchie, Tishman Speyer’s managing director of business development and head of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“It’s important for us as a company to do what we can to grow the pipeline of future rock stars in the industry,” Ritchie said. “Other industries are way ahead of the real estate industry in terms of occupying mindshare with kids of color and with girls while they’re in elementary, middle [and] high school.”
Project Destined also offers another indirect benefit to its students: mentorship. Bobo said he always felt the U.S. lacked the apprenticeship-style training he benefited from when his father-in-law taught Bobo how to invest in the apartment market while he lived in London.
Mentorship also tends to be harder to find for underrepresented groups. An August survey of 1,228 mostly female real estate professionals found that 56 percent of respondents said they had access to a mentor in the last two years. That number was significantly lower for people of color, where only 21 percent had a mentor or sponsor, according to the Commercial Real Estate Women Network survey.
But Eduardo Iriarte, a sophomore at Columbia University, said taking a Project Destined class while he attended the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in 2018 helped him secure a network and several internships, including at Mastercard, Artemis Real Estate Partners and Brookfield. Unlike Franklin and Almancar, Iriarte has years left to decide what he wants to do long term. Whether it’s venture capital or psychology, he knows he’s well prepared.
“A lot of my networks are owed a lot to this program,” said Iriarte. “I didn’t know anything about this industry or how it works or about real estate, so I think for someone like Cedric to have the confidence in us to take on this industry, as well as be confident in our ability to do well and hold our own when it comes to having a conversation with people who actually work here, has done a lot for me for my personal development, for my growth.”
Celia Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.