Proptech Firms Find Their Niches, Including Senior Housing

Student housing, too, draws particular competition from firms

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The housing needs of seniors and students are growing rapidly, and proptech is increasingly focused on providing services for both real estate niches.

Unlike proptech companies that address huge established markets such as multifamily or office real estate, a number of technology firms see niche sectors as underserved and in greater need of their services. That combination offers current and long-term profitability opportunities, said entrepreneurs in the field.

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America’s aging population presents housing challenges and opportunities for proptech entrepreneurs, said ​​Christophe Rimann, co-founder at Juniper, a proptech/fintech startup that focuses on automating the collection of insurance reimbursements for behavioral health clinics and senior care centers.

“We realized that there was a drastically underserved market in the way that clinics accept payments and the way that they think about their financial services,” said Rimann. “If you look at hospital systems, they have very well matured financial systems that are great in collecting from insurance and great systems to get access to capital. But when you look at the long tail of health care services, whether that be in our case autism care, home health or hospice, the technology is severely lacking from the billing and payment side and from the financing side. 

“That’s when we wanted to get involved: To try and figure out how we could provide best in class technology to folks who are too busy to do anything about all of this administrative stuff.”

Although such senior-focused health care facilities generally have a strong revenue base, inconsistent insurance reimbursements can affect cash flow, said Rimann.

“Insurance companies are the ones who ultimately are responsible for paying out,” he said. “And so we often engage directly with the REITs or private equity funds, because their asset, the health care provider, should by all accounting standpoints be able to make payments on cash flow positivity. Usually, when a holding company brings us on board it is to essentially help get this provider into a position where their capital matches their revenues.”

Having built out their automation system over the last two years, Juniper is now demonstrating its effectiveness for clients, resulting in fast growth for the startup, said Rimann.

“We typically see pretty substantial EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] increases, up to 50 percent, but I would say that for the vast majority of our large-scale clients, it is cash acceleration,” he said. “So, starting in August of last year we were able to start demonstrating those results. Since then, our revenue is 6x, and 3x from the beginning of this year, while our bookings are 10x where they were in August.”

Another proptech company working in the senior care vertical is Butlr, a sensor for artificial intelligence (AI) occupancy data. Originally designed for in-home safety, Butlr’s body heat sensor technology was perfectly adaptable to senior care facilities use, said Honghao Deng, co-founder of Butlr.

“Eventually, we will all have mobility issues,” said Deng. “So it’s a market that continues to grow. And then there’s a huge labor shortage in the healthcare industry. The reason why we have a niche is because traditionally you either get remote health monitoring of the elderly in a long-term care facility, or by knocking at the door and looking inside.”

Although cameras and other devices can help overwhelmed nurses and aides, many patients find them intrusive, a violation of privacy, or just an annoyance, said Deng. “We only take the heat signature in the room to recognize body pressure in your location, essentially doing everything a camera does, but without the privacy issue. It’s way cheaper, more efficient and easier, as with our sensor they will get automatically alerted.”

Butlr’s technology has resulted in a fivefold growth per year for the company, which now gets 25 percent of its business from senior health care facilities, Deng said.

Infinityy, a collaborative proptech platform for real estate transactions, is also used in senior living facilities, said Jim Schoonmaker, CEO of the company.

“In the senior housing space, decisions are rarely made by a single individual,” said Schoonmaker. “Often the individual that’s in question may not even be in a position to make the decision. Having gone through this myself with my parents recently, it would have been very helpful to have a platform like Infinityy where my siblings and I could go through the place that my parents moved to and gain some comfort that it is going to be a good place for them.

“The chances of all of us being local at the same time to explore a property — I have three brothers and a sister — it just wasn’t practical. And so senior living facilities are using Infiniityy’s technology to facilitate that sort of decision making, which accelerates the overall transaction process for them.”

Senior care demand, along with that of student housing, has resulted in those niches accounting for a combined 30 to 40 percent of Infinityy’s business, said Schoonmaker.

“As any kind of technology company, you’re looking for what’s called the fast-moving water,” he said. “Where is the transaction happening faster? That usually means the pain’s more acute, and if you’ve aligned your solution towards that pain, you should be adopted more quickly there and then. I would love to say that we knew that going in, but it was much more something we discovered in just engaging with customers.”

Another significant proptech niche is student housing.

The cost and demand for student housing continues to grow, necessitating greater efficiencies across the board, said Charlie Matthews, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based House Analytics. Founded in 2020, House Analytics is the parent company of College House and Senior House, the latter of which was launched in January 2024.

“We have ushered in a new way of doing things,” said Matthews. “Our platform tracks performance-line revenue metrics for purpose-built student housing properties across the United States, updated on a weekly basis. We have about 13 or 14 different different customer types on the student housing side. So, whether they are a broker, a lender, an investor, developer, a manager, owner, operator or a vendor to the space, they’re leveraging property performance and understanding positioning in the market for rates.”

An even more “nichey” niche in student housing is the demand for electrical vehicle (EV) charging for students, faculty and staff.

“We’re seeing a lot of university fleets converting to electric, so putting in ample infrastructure right out the gate is super important, and also making sure that you’re adequately sizing it,” said Regan Hartley, director of global real estate at Xeal, which also provides EV charging technology for apartments, condos and workplaces.

About 25 percent of Xeal’s business is university focused, with the company having placed more than 500 charging stations on campuses such as Boise State, Emory University, Princeton University, Texas State, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Southern California and the University of Texas at Austin, said Hartley. The company, which also does senior living, traditional multifamily, biotech and some hotels, anticipates an 800 percent year-over-year expansion in their business in the university sector.

Many university students are looking for easy and reliable ways to charge their EVs, said Hartley. “If you live in a dorm and drive an electric car, you need to make sure that you’re going to be able to charge that car every night or at least a couple times a week. And we’re seeing universities take off with regards to EV adoption. They want the latest and greatest tech. They’re very green and sustainability cautious, and so we’re seeing them adopt EVs a little earlier than the other markets.”

The opportunities presented by senior care facilities and student housing have not been lost on the proptech venture capital community, said Jake Fingert, managing partner at VC firm Camber Creek.

“Student housing and senior housing are the two that I would say stand out,” he said. “There’s a few challenges that we see as being particularly acute for the student housing space. One is around screening a lot of students who don’t have a large credit history. Screening international students, in particular, can be really challenging for a lot of student housing providers. One of the phenomenons that we’ve seen over the last 10 years is a massive increase in the amount of data that is now publicly available on individuals. There is a big opportunity to get much more sophisticated in terms of underwriting, pricing, and sourcing individuals for student housing.”

Other student housing challenges that could be aided by proptech revolve around tenant engagement and universities monetizing user data. Both are areas Camber Creek has thought about, from looking at how to use TikTok for tenant engagement, to the use of students’ data when they graduate as they begin to look for apartments or other housing, Fingert said.

“I think there is a real untapped opportunity as people graduate from student housing into other types of multifamily, or even eventually buying a home,” he said. “One of the things a lot of student housing providers have not done very effectively in the past is monetize some of the data that they have. They have a lot of information on the people, on the property, who they are, how they spend their time, and their ability to pay. That information could be really valuable, and is really valuable to a lot of other groups. And I think people are just starting to realize that.”

Camber Creek has worked with one of its portfolio companies, PetScreening, to adapt its technology toward student and senior housing issues, he said. The company automates tenants’ pet data for multifamily landlords, making the process easier and more transparent for both sides. “What we’ve done to date is invest in companies that are working in multifamily, and we’ve helped them expand into some of those niches in a lot of ways that can be a very effective mechanism for defining more specialty-focused products,” Fingert said.

“That business has grown really well over the last seven years since we invested,” he said. “Some nuances within student housing are a little bit different. For example, you tend to not have as many service-related animals. We’ve also helped them go into senior housing, where you tend to have maybe more service animals. And help with navigating some of the unique systems and processes related to those different categories — getting the right integrations with the different software providers that work with those different categories, which is certainly important. That’s been a great example of where we’ve been able to take a company that’s in multifamily and expand them to other categories.”

Philip Russo can be reached at prusso@commercialobserver.com