Backstory: Creating the MetaProp Pre-Accelerator at Columbia University


Founders Aaron Block and Josh Panknin provide the backstory on the MetaProp Pre-Accelerator at Columbia University, the world’s first PropTech pre-accelerator.

As reported recently in the Wall Street Journal, the coming together of MetaProp NYC and Columbia University to create the world’s first PropTech pre-accelerator is a milestone in real estate technology history. Here, Aaron Block, Founding Partner and Managing Director of MetaProp NYC, and Josh Panknin, CURE's Director of Real Estate Technology (Columbia Center for Urban Real Estate) Initiatives, talk about how the MetaProp Pre-Accelerator at Columbia University, which commences May 1, 2017, came about and what it means for the global PropTech community.


At a certain point, a basic question that occurred to us at MetaProp NYC and to the PropTech community was, what exactly is a pre-accelerator and is it something that would benefit the rapidly growing global real estate technology ecosystem? What we learned is that a pre-accelerator, common in other tech sectors, are different from an accelerator, which MetaProp already has, and from incubators.

Basically, pre-accelerators generally begin with companies that are earliest stage in the startup process and have a structured program with a short timeframe that focuses on big ideas from first time entrepreneurs, students, recent graduates and scholars. Programming focuses on mentoring, validation of business idea, a clear understanding of the customer development strategy, market and competitive analysis, a minimum viable product and communications.

Whereas, incubators no set schedule and typically are run by government entities, nonprofits or major corporations.  In most cases, startups accepted into incubator programs relocate to a shared office to work with other companies in the incubator on a month-to-month lease program.

Most important to us at MetaProp, accelerators usually have a set timeframe in which individual companies spend anywhere from a few weeks to a few months working with a group of mentors and education sessions to build out their business and avoid problems along the way. Accelerators start with an application process, but the top programs are typically very selective.  MetaProp historically has selected only 3% of applicants for our program. Companies are given a small seed investment and access to a large mentor network in exchange for a small amount of equity. The mentor network, typically composed of startup executives and outside investors, is often the biggest value for prospective companies.

Taking all these factors into consideration, we realized we needed an extremely high-level and experienced partner in entrepreneurial development to create a PropTech pre-accelerator. That’s when we thought of Columbia University.


When Aaron and fellow founding partner, Zach Aarons, the latter of whom is an alumnus of Columbia University’s business school, approached us, we saw a natural fit immediately. As New York City’s only Ivy League institution, Columbia University recognizes the city as the world’s capital of real estate and PropTech, and has access to deep technology and the broad resources of top students, alumni and faculty in real estate and computer science. Moreover, as CURE’s director, I knew we could provide the leadership and entrepreneurial vision for a PropTech pre-accelerator. And we knew MetaProp NYC well, having successfully executed projects together over the past two years, including New York City Real Estate Tech Week, the Columbia CURE sponsorship of MIPIM PropTech Summit in partnership with MetaProp and having MetaProp partners guest lecturing at Columbia classes.

We were also a good fit because MetaProp already runs the leading real estate tech growth accelerator and has immense established relationships, as well as fixed costs already in place with capacity to execute. In coming together with MetaProp, Columbia becomes the institutional thought leader for new PropTech ideation and research. We expect to be known immediately as the premier global PropTech academics institution. In addition, we are building a pipeline of corporate funding partners for research and academic programming, while engaging students, alumni, faculty and administration in this effort.


In joining with CURE, MetaProp NYC is now known for bringing PropTech’s best entrepreneurs from “ideation to IPO” and solidifies its place as the global PropTech nexus. We are perfectly positioned to capture early stage ideas and startups for early investments by MetaProp Ventures funds. Plus, we now have year-round accelerator-related programming, providing new opportunities for community, mentor and corporate sponsor engagement, while solidifying New York City as the global PropTech crossroads.

Our partnership with Columbia strengthens greatly our goal to bring PropTech startups from the thinking stage to the business stage. Our program will make a big impact on the PropTech community this year, as we intend to solve some of the real estate industry’s biggest problems. We’re out to prove that our actions and progress speak louder than the words of others.

Specifically, the MetaProp Pre-Accelerator at Columbia University is an intensive 8-week PropTech program. Each spring, up to five very early stage teams/entrepreneurs will be selected from more than one hundred global applications.  Pre-Accelerator participants will receive industry mentoring and access to early product feedback, as well as general business and deep technology training from leaders at MetaProp NYC and Columbia University. Successful program graduates may also receive initial funding from MetaProp Ventures and preferred application consideration for the annual MetaProp NYC growth-stage Accelerator program.


We are excited to have a real partnership with MetaProp NYC, with at least half of each program taking place at Columbia University facilities. Columbia will provide curated introductions and education sessions in deep technology including machine learning, artificial intelligence, data management, GIS, technology and product forums and networking opportunities, as well as access to Columbia students, alumni and faculty in real estate, technology and entrepreneurship.


We expect some 100 applicants for the first class, from which we will probably choose about five startups. MetaProp NYC will provide weekly office hours, classes, guest speakers, networking event and field trips between Columbia University’s campus and our office on “RETech Row,” 21st Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in Flatiron, Manhattan.

MetaProp NYC benefits will also include curated introductions and education sessions on such things as company formation and legal issues, HR and recruiting, finance and accounting, facilities selection and sales and business development. Plus we will have discounts on product services available to our accelerator companies in the areas of hosting, software development, physical space, legal, accounting, banking and other startup needs.

More generally, MetaProp NYC is vastly experienced and successful in providing startups with education and coaching, initial idea feedback from potential beta customers, access to our RE200 Mentors and corporate partners, pitch development and coaching, and accelerator application guidance.

MetaProp NYC expects that over the next five years, the pre-accelerator at Columbia University program will be at least partially responsible for up to $25 million in startup funding, sponsorships and grants, with the money coming from MetaProp, venture investors, corporate sponsors, foundations and government.


It’s also important to note that in devising our partnership for this PropTech pre-accelerator we wanted it to be open to budding real estate tech entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world, not just Columbia students and alumni. However, a select number of teams will come from Columbia, with the rest coming from the general public.

Ideal pre-accelerator candidates who are working on a real estate technology startup, idea or project, will be thinking about technologies aimed at solving global real estate's most pressing problems, have individuals or teams comprised of first time entrepreneurs, students, recent graduates or scholars, as well as considering software, hardware and tech-enabled service solutions.

The Pre-Accelerator startupswon’t “graduate” or get a diploma, as this is not a formal college program. However, each Pre-Accelerator participant will present a private “Graduation Defense” judged by a panel of industry and academic experts.


What We Learned at cre.techLIVE's Next Generation Property Management

Answer: A lot!

When you bring together some of New York City’s most experienced major property managers, add in a few of the brightest tech innovators in the space and put them all together at the Real Estate Board of New York’s HQ in a series of talks and panels, you get what one attendee called, “The hippest thing REBNY has done here.”

Oh, did we mention the artisan coffee (in take-home mugs!) and pastries, too?

Kicking-off with MetaProp NYC Founding Partner Zach Aarons playfully grilling (“Speaking of property management tech, when can you just fire everyone?”) Corigin Ventures Chairman Ryan Freedman, the morning provided more than 100 attendees a variety of insights into the intersection of old methodologies, new efficiencies and improved levels of customer service through the intelligent use of technology in commercial and residential buildings. 

A rock-star property management panel of Bob Best, of JLL; Gene Boniberger, of Rudin Management; Margaret Streicker Porres, of Newcastle Realty Services, and Gaston Silva, of Vornado Realty Trust, moderated by REBNY’s Ryan Baxter, produced a lively debate about what was and wasn’t new under the PropTech sun relating to their complex daily responsibilities for landlords and tenants. Although a bit biased,’s visionary honcho Travis Barrington insisted the group was “the best real estate panel I have ever heard.”

In addition, there were highly focused breakout sessions with Peter Boritz, CEO of Real Data Management, talking about the newest software solutions in the field; Mike Mullin, President of Integrated Business Systems, Inc. scaring the bejesus out of everyone over cyber attacks; Marc Rehberger, Director of Commercial Real Estate for Matterport, adding his 3D solutions wisdom, and Scott Sidman, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer of Building Engines, offering his comprehensive experience about what attracts and retains clients, especially tenants.

As Aaron Block, Founding Partner and Managing Director of MetaProp NYC, summed it up: “What we all heard here today is some of the best thinking in the world about what makes buildings smart, how that’s changed over time and how top thought-leaders see the future of property management technology.”

East Coast Demo Day Recap

MetaProp NYC's East Coast Demo Day at 7 World Trade Center

MetaProp NYC's East Coast Demo Day at 7 World Trade Center

Yesterday, Jan. 26, 2017, MetaProp NYC was proud to celebrate six of the finest young entrepreneurs in PropTech at our annual East Coast Demo Day in 7 World Trade Center, Manhattan. Although tickets to the event sold out the first day offered, we squeezed in as many is as possible, but still had a waiting list of more than 180. The packed house included NYC’s top investors, startups and forward-thinking real estate executives. It was wonderful to see the entire community come together to support our ambitious and promising companies. Tal Kerret, president of Silverstein Properties, delivered the keynote. The crowd was treated to Zach Aaron’s PropTech prophecies, including blockchain deals and 3D printing on the moon in 2017. MetaProp NYC’s new Fund Manager, Zak Schwarzman, gave an overview of the PropTech market, followed by Co-Founder and Managing Director Aaron Block’s summary of MetaProp NYC’s work and mission. The MetaProp NYC 2016-2017 class of Bowery, Enertiv, Flip, hOM, onTarget, and Ravti stole the show, unveiling exciting projects and an optimistic future for real estate technology. Overall, the day was a huge success.

2016-2017 Mentor of the Year Finalists

We've said it before and we'll say it again - mentors make the MetaProp NYC community. This year, we wanted to honor a mentor that has gone above and beyond the call of duty to helping guide the 2016-17 accelerator startups. The three finalists for the 2016-17 Accelerator Mentor of the Year (MOY) are: 

  • Michael Donaghy, Project Manager of Operations Business Systems, Structure Tone
  • Ross Goldenberg, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, SiteCompli
  • Caren Maio, CEO & Co-Founder, Nestio
(From left) Michael Donaghy, Ross Goldenberg, Caren Maio

(From left) Michael Donaghy, Ross Goldenberg, Caren Maio

As an executive of a leading construction management firm, Structure Tone’s Donaghy was matched with OnTarget, the visual project management and analytics for construction, with powerful 3D rendering startup. Along with Donaghy’s general advice and introductions within Structure Tone, he helped onTarget streamline its software to focus on the right market and customers, creating a list of features that were instrumental in selling the startup to many other companies.

Goldenberg, who co-founded SiteCompli, the leading compliance solution for owners and property managers, was matched with Bowery, the tech-enabled commercial appraisal firm. He was recognized for his great enthusiasm in devoting many hours to brainstorming with the founders on subjects that included marketing Bowery’s product; banking issues, and how to deal with appraisal firms who inquire about SaaS or acquisition.

Maio mentored the founders of hOM, the tech-enabled amenity management that partners with landlords to deliver fitness classes and crowd-sourced events to under-utilized spaces. Along with helping hOM re-formulate its contract to be more applicable to the industry, Maio helped the startup’s founders with the emotional intelligence required to efficiently grow its business.

We will be announcing the Mentor of the Year on Thursday, Jan 26, 2017, at MetaProp NYC's East Coast Demo Day, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at 7 World Trade Center, Manhattan. 

Unicorns Eat Dinosaurs

unicorn eat dinosaur PropTech MetaProp.jpg

Hey CRE executives...

You may have brushed off the media frenzy around OpenDoor's December round (PropTech's "largest funding round ever") and $1b+ valuation.  Your ears may have perked up after the announcement of the PropTech mega-merger of the two broker-centric firms VTS and Hightower in late November.  In 2017, my partner Zach Aarons says that PropTech startups are going to merge at a rapid clip and large incumbent technology companies are going become more acquisitive to protect their moats.  However, as our good friend and frequent co-investor Hunter Walk so eloquently put it, in 2017, GE Will Buy More Tech Startups Than Google.  The phenomenon of both aggressive and defensive acquisition won't be relegated solely to "technology" companies within real estate.  

Attention C&W, Colliers, NGKF, Savills Studley, Avison Young, HFF, Marcus & Millichap, Transwestern, Cresa et. al... You MUST pay attention and carefully consider your next move.  

Yesterday, CBRE announced the acquisition of Floored.  This is not CBRE's first PropTech acquisition nor is it the first for a large CRE brokerage firm.  In fact, PropTech observers were impressed with JLL's purchase of Corrigo just over a year ago.

This Floored acquisition is different.  This is cutting edge, VR technology.  This is a business with major customers and a fabulous team.  This is also a move by a new "CDO" executive at a major multinational.  Most importantly, this is likely a multi-year lock-up of one of the most talented, bright and connected PropTech minds in the world.  Floored's CEO Dave Eisenberg is not just an entrepreneur and CEO.  He's a sharp seed stage venture capitalist who has made investments in PropTech companies like Hightower and Dynasty.  He knows the cutting edge tech space inside and out like few others.  He knows PropTech better than almost anyone.  Most importantly, he's one of the most connected guys in NYC - the center of the global PropTech movement.  

Thanks to Dave, CBRE has a legitimate chance to corner the market for the best new real estate technologies.  This will positively affect CBRE's own business practices, their clients' businesses, and ultimately, their investors.  

It seems that CBRE acknowledges that the unicorns may eat the dinosaurs!