January 14, 2015

OpportunitySpace: Marketplace Making it Simple for People to Invest in Untapped Real Estate

If there’s a more obvious example of taking advantage of under-valued, misused land or property than Boston’s Seaport District, I certainly haven’t seen it first-hand like I have our beloved Innovation District. 

However, the reality is there is property, be it misused or abandoned, available across cities all around the country. More specifically, government-owned parcels of land across urban areas that could be improving the landscape and lifestyle of residents and even generating revenue are, sadly, abundant. 

Finally, a team of entrepreneurs is taking it upon themselves to solve this problem. 

Founded out of Harvard comes OpportunitySpace, an online inventory, marketplace and community for public sector real estate making it simple for people to reinvest in cities by connecting stakeholders in real estate and providing user-focused access to information. 

I sat down with Co-Founder and CEO, Alex Kapur of the startup who just announced a $500,000 seed investment led by advisor Nicholas Negroponte, a noted technology visionary and Founder/Chairman Emeritus of the MIT Media Lab. 

Kapur, who grew up in New York City and Washington D.C., received his Bachelors in Communications from University of Pennsylvania and, later, his Masters of Public Policy, Business-Government Relations from Harvard, where he met his two of his Co-Founders, Cristina Garmendia and Nicolas Tejera. Andrew Kieve, a former consultant at Innosight, the consulting firm founded by Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen, rounds out the founding team. 

Kapur, who told me he always had an interest in real estate development, shared with me his “ah-ha” moment. 

One day, while walking around the Harvard neighborhood, Kapur passed a rundown plot of land and simply thought he could do something better with that space. Then came the questions… How do I acquire this space? How do I raise the money to develop it? What can or can’t I build on the land? 

He quickly realized the archaic process that existed among government procedures and websites. Things needed to be simplified. So, like any great entrepreneur, Kapur began solving his own problems and realized a great business opportunity. 

Now, OpportunitySpace is setting out to use technology as a way to revitalize urban areas to help people discover possibilities in their cities. 

The team is working in close partnership with city and town governments as well as other public entities to identify and drive creative redevelopment to undervalued property in urban areas. 

Aside from its collaboration with Boston, specifically the MassDOT Infra-Space project, which is transforming underpasses into community amenities, the startup, who was a recent MassChallenge finalist, has been working with several cities in Kentucky and Rhode Island. 

The map-based system works similarly to Zillow in that you can search for properties by address, size, type and other pertinent criteria. 

“We want to make development properties as discoverable as houses on Zillow,” Kapur told me. And that makes sense. As Kapur discussed with me, for too long real estate development has been viewed as an opportunity purely for real estate professionals or those of high-net-worth. OpportunitySpace is closing that gap. 

Not only are prospective/aspiring developers able to discover land, but they’ll be given access to and guidance throughout the entire process. That includes zoning regulations, financial data and other relevant and important information that is otherwise difficult to gain access to. In some cases, Kapur tells me, the only way to get this now is to actually go to City Hall and receive hard copies.

Furthermore, OpportunitySpace allows developers to send an inquiry to the property manager/owner directly through the site, which the startup can then track and ensure response. This, of course, is also where the monetization of OpportunitySpace comes into play. Essentially, they serve as an online brokerage firm and will take a commission or fee from each transaction. “We get paid when properties move,” Kapur simply put it me.

With the seed round secured Kapur says the team’s focus will be on solidifying their business model and moving into new markets by the end of Q1 and into Q2. 

In talking with Co-Founder, Cristina Garmendia about the startup’s future she told me: 

OpportunitySpace is an important new economic development tool for governments. Positive user experience has grown more important as both capital and people have become more mobile. For cities to stay competitive for real estate investment dollars, they will need to invest more in technology that enables customer/citizen engagement through access to real-time information. Our company applies human-centered design to vastly improve the experience of both government sellers and private sector buyers of surplus real estate.” 

In the more immediate future, the team will be growing as OpportunitySpace is looking to fill roles in digital marketing, data analytics and real estate operations. 

As Kapur and I closed out our meeting inside MassChallege, looking out over the Innovation District discussing the massive development going on in the area, we noticed an abandoned brick building below the Design Center. The old loft-type building is just sitting there, on prime real estate, waiting for someone to take onwership and redevelop it. If only there were a tool out there to allow someone to discover and capitalize on that property…

Josh Boyle is Director of Community & Marketing, VentureFizz.  You can follow him on Twitter @jb_sid
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