Ivo van Breukelen, Partner, The PropTech Connection

Ivo van Breukelen is a US-based Property and Construction Tech expert. Ivo's position at the forefront of these industries means he's uniquely placed to provide insights into where the built environment is headed. Read his insights on where the innovation hubs are and why Millennials and Gen Z are changing the face of the Construction and Real Estate industries.

How did you end up sitting where you are today?

I am, as you may know from my accent, Dutch, born and raised - Amsterdam to be precise.

I grew up there, studying International Business at the university and, after my master's degree, I decided that I wanted to explore the world. In the early days and my student time, I used to play a lot of poker. So for that reason, I travelled quite a bit around the globe.

After my studies, I moved to Asia. I lived in Vietnam for close to four years, working as an expatriate for a Dutch corporate, basically building up a satellite factory in the shipbuilding industry. I learned a lot travelling throughout Asia, which was absolutely magnificent. After that, I moved to South America, where I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for almost two years. I worked for different Dutch companies there, which was also great, and I learned a lot.

After that assignment, around six years ago, I moved north to Chicago and have called it home ever since.

Initially, here in the US, I got involved in the construction industry, working for a building material manufacturer. I did that for close to two years, which was fun, working mainly with architects and developers and a lot with the big tech companies within their in-house real estate divisions; we're talking Google, Amazon and Microsoft. I have close relationships there.

In 2018, I saw a lot of things happening in the built environment. I would say construction is the biggest industry globally and, along with finance, these are two of the three biggest sectors on the planet. But, aside from their size, what they also share in common is that they are traditionally probably the least receptive industries to innovation.

If you look at digitization, so many other industries have accelerated, but not really in construction and only to a limited extent in finance. I saw it as a huge opportunity. So I decided that I wanted to utilize my skill set to the fullest extent by positioning myself on topics that revolve around sustainability, technology and innovation in the built environment. For me, this meant being in PropTech (Property Technology).

I hosted a guest lecture at Harvard in 2018 and then got to know a lot of people in that space. My business partner lives in Sydney and has worked for one of the biggest REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) with a $10 billion portfolio. He was running a lot of their companies and was also tasked to optimize their residential portfolio. And after that, he worked as the COO for the biggest prop-tech VC fund in APAC. So they're investing in projects, helping them.

He decided to go and work for the PropTech Connection, where I'm also a partner. We work as a bridge between investment funds and PropTech startups, vetting both sides to help each other find the most suitable partner to achieve their goals.

We're also working with MIT on our prop-tech research paper, giving them some global insights into what we see that's happening in the market. So it's a very exciting time!

What kind of work does your role involve?

What I do is build relationships, first and foremost.

So we believe that this entire prop tech industry is still a niche industry. It's a small industry, but moving very fast. So, you see a lot of capital sitting on the sidelines, wanting to enter the space to invest in it.

One big driver in Europe is, for example, the Green New Deal. That legislation is being drafted as we speak. In Europe, they penalize you if you don't hit specific targets. So that's obviously a huge driver.

So we see a bunch of activity around that and funds and investors wanting to get in. But my day-to-day, I would say, is speaking to investors, understanding what their mandate is because every single investor we talk to has different mandates. We talk to funds in Silicon Valley, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Europe, Japan, China, India, Australia, basically all across the globe.

Funds have different metrics. Some say 'we only invest in ConTech (Construction Tech)', which is a hot topic, or some say 'only PropTech'. Then, it's a case of asking what are the metrics around it? What are your goals? How big are the ticket sizes? What thresholds need to be met for them to consider an investment, meaning, for example, what is the revenue the business needs to have? Do they need to be cash-flow positive, etc.? So we talk to investors on the one hand.

On the other, we speak to the tech buyers, the REITs, the agencies and the developers trying to understand their commercial problem and then try to fit in there the technology.

Thirdly, we have a lot of close relationships with the teams who build the products. So for them, we can help them raise capital. So we match them, let's say, with investors and sit in the middle right between all those three stakeholders. So we make that process much more manageable.

We are literally the bridge between the different parties in different countries and regions. For example, we tend to see a lot of prospects in the US that typically tend to look at Europe first - typically the UK because of language because of legal, etc. It's the biggest product market in Europe. Conversely, if a company from the US wants to enter APAC, they typically go to Australia first, before moving onto places like Singapore, which offers a soft-landing to Asia.

So, my day-to-day job involves a lot of talking and facilitating on a global basis.