Are Proptech Conferences Still Necessary?

The short answer is yes — even as a major New York conference ceases. The long answer depends on the location and the focus.

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Labor Day Weekend signals the unofficial beginning of fall, which means the start of the annual proptech conference season.

Ironically, as technology in real estate continues to grow and becomes more intrinsic to the industry, there are questions as to whether proptech-focused conferences are more — or less — relevant than in the past. A number of proptech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists hold vastly different opinions. Meanwhile, a major real estate conference company recently ceased its annual New York City event.

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Some earlier-stage proptech startup founders take a positive view of the annual conferences.

“Primarily, my job here is networking,” said Jim Schoonmaker, CEO and founder at Infinityy, a Boston-based startup that connects real estate sales and leasing teams to prospective tenants on a shared online platform. “It’s trying to connect to the other professionals that I see out there. CREtech continues to be a conference that we go to religiously. That’s probably my favorite, because I think the content is the best and I think it’s the best organized.”

Schoonmaker, who founded Infinityy in 2019, said he also attends the annual Las Vegas-based conferences Blueprint and the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) Optech Conference & Expo. “They get very interesting groups of people who we would struggle to meet with any other way,” he said.

Like many who attend proptech conferences, Schoonmaker looks to connect with customers and investors, but sees a third goal as well.

“It can be finding partners,” said Schoonmaker. “They can be very effective in understanding an industry that requires integration. Nobody wants a stand-alone solution to anything. They want whatever you’re building to integrate with the other products they already have. So building those partnerships is very key at those events, too.”

In January 2023, the Center for Real Estate Technology & Innovation (CRETI) conducted its annual survey of proptech and general real estate conferences. The survey found CREtech and Blueprint to be the most highly attended proptech conferences among respondents, with 12.6 percent and 11.1 percent attendance, respectively. In addition, Blueprint (10.9 percent) and CREtech (6.6 percent), led the proptech conferences in providing the most value, according to the survey.

Another pro-proptech conference entrepreneur agrees on the value of Blueprint and CREtech.

“The two go-to proptech conferences are CREtech for thought leadership and innovative real estate companies, and Blueprint for proptech investors and startup peers,” said Christine Wendell, co-founder and CEO at Pronto Housing, an affordable housing leasing and compliance software platform.

I have found it valuable to also attend multifamily and affordable housing conferences such as NMHC and AHF Live [in Chicago], where Pronto is part of the conversation as a solution to topics such as operating expense and staffing pressures, which are a focus for all operators, even those without a specific tech or innovation team,” Wendell said.

While many attendees still find proptech-focused conferences valuable, there are some changes that could be made, said Pierre Calzadilla, executive vice president of growth at Local Logic, a Montreal-based property location insights platform.

We need less events, with better content, and to change the paradigm of ‘vendors,’ ” said Calzadilla. “It feels like the companies that pay the most get the most attention versus the companies that make the best impact, or show ROI, etc. It would be nice to see an event where merit actually earns stage time versus how much you paid.

“The best events — like Blueprint and CREtech — offer software for people to connect prior to the event. I find that invaluable. They also provide open meeting spaces you can book to meet and coordinate a meeting place. Providing food so attendees can network is also a huge plus.”

More generally, the organizations running proptech conferences have varying views on their current and future viability.

“For our New York show next month, we are expecting another record crowd of nearly 3,000 attendees,” Lindsey Imperatore, president of CREtech, said in a statement to PropTech Insider in August. “Since 2017, we have seen 50 percent attendance growth year-over-year. Our first conference in 2017 was 200 people, and now it is well over 10 times that.”

Not all proptech organizers are so sanguine, though.

Global events company MIPIM, which had run MIPIM NY, has decided to exit proptech’s worldwide hub — New York City — in a quiet but decisive move.

“MIPIM has made the decision to not proceed with MIPIM NY in its planned format in November 2023,” the company, which declined to be interviewed for this story, said in a statement to PropTech Insider. “We are now focusing on bringing the U.S., along with the rest of the world, to MIPIM in Cannes. We are looking forward to supporting the city of New York as well as other U.S. cities, along with the wider U.S. real estate market, building on the success of the U.S. delegation we brought to MIPIM this year, as a crucial, fast-growing part of the world’s leading real estate event in 2024.”

MIPIM said it had 22,500 attendees in Cannes this year, with a 33 percent increase in attendance from the U.S. compared to 2022.

MIPIM’s decision to fold its New York conference may be as much a part of a larger picture of real estate conferences absorbing their proptech counterparts as the tech sector assumes a greater role in the industry as about a lack of profits from the event, said James Dearsley, a proptech consultant and non-executive chairman of Unissu, a London-based provider of  proptech data, content and research services.

“My view on this is that over the years the reasons for having a proptech conference have shifted,” said Dearsley. “I think the market has changed from one of building a community to one of education. And I think key markets like the United States and some areas of Europe were further ahead than others. They built a community very quickly and very early. Almost too early. And the educational aspects of the conferences were always a little bit slower.”

Conferences need to be more geographically specific to coincide with differing levels of proptech market development, Dearsley said.

“There was a mismatch in the communities coming together in less [and more] developed and geographical areas,” he said. “The conferences held more value for the traditional sector, because they were only interested in understanding what technology could do for them. They didn’t really need to build a community in the first place.

“Over the last decade I have been present at over 150 conferences on six continents in over 40 different countries. We’ve got to remember that this conference discussion is not just about the United Kingdom and the United States, which I think we could very easily draw our conclusions from. I think the conference circuit has very much run its course as a proptech conference, in terms of narrative, because the discussion has moved on.”

Even the term “proptech” itself has become something of a negative branding issue, said Dearsley.

“I think my problem is the term ‘proptech,’ because it alienates the traditional industry,” he said. “If you talk about innovation, about digital transformation, about ESG, all of the various touch points that technology influences, that is the more important angle of it. Just adding proptech into your conference is not going to make any difference whatsoever. Conferences need to realize that running a conference that has property in the name will turn off the traditional market and therefore it’s entirely wrong to have, in my view.

“In emerging markets — take South America — proptech is still valid as a narrative, but I’ve already found myself just this year explaining to conference organizers that they’ve got to have a more grown-up narrative and realize that proptech is not the term that is going to attract people to the discussion.”

The evolution of proptech conferences and MIPIM’s ending its New York City event can be seen as part of the industry’s maturation, said Aaron Block, co-founder and managing partner of Manhattan-based MetaProp, a leading early-stage startup venture capital firm that has partnered with MIPIM on its New York City conferences since they began in 2016.

“The market has become much more mature and sophisticated, naturally, over the last four or five years,” said Block. “I think of proptech like the Bible. In the early days during Genesis, things were just being invented, tested and tried. That meant more need for the events business. As the market matured, a bunch of folks came in over the last several years with regional proptech conferences in LATAM, Asia, Europe, and several in the United States.

“Then the startups started to get more sophisticated. You had more VCs come into the space and the industry really started to adopt. I think that’s when an Exodus away from that second chapter happened. We’re probably now in the third chapter where you will start to see probably one major global event. There’s definitely room for someone to be a once-a-year aggregator of people who have interest in innovation in the real estate space. The jury’s out as to where that’s going to be right now.”

Philip Russo can be reached at prusso@commercialobserver.com.