Hot PropTech in the Cool Nordics

RecoTech 2019

RecoTech, the official side event of Slush, brought together PropTech enthusiasts from all over the world. Each presenter shed their own light on why we should keep our entrepreneurial eyes on PropTech.

Here are my notes on a few of the awesome presentations and talks at the event on December 4, 2018, in Helsinki, Finland.

Insight on Global PropTech

James Dearsley of Unissu painted a global picture of the current state of PropTech.

The provocative title of his opening keynote was “Is PropTech all Bullsh*t?” He did not give a direct answer but said that PropTech is one small part of the wider digital transformation of the property industry. It describes a movement that is driving a mentality change regarding technology-driven innovation.

There are six to seven thousand PropTech firms globally. Dearsley won the hearts of Finnish attendees after declaring Finland as Europe’s number one in its “PropTech companies per million inhabitants” comparison (16.94 per million).

recotech unissy

According to Dearsley, the similarities in real estate information management across the world are staggering. Therefore, it’s not hard for startups to build a global solution to a local problem.

China, Australia, Africa, and South America all have slightly different approaches to PropTech –notably, China and Australia will be exporters of PropTech in the near future, whereas Europe will struggle with expansion outside its national borders.

We’ll see more and more US PropTech companies in the global market. US investors favor large firms that are primed for international expansion.

Are We Building Walls or Life?

A panel of design-firm leaders pondered the question, “are we building walls or life?” Lead by Heather Wray of The Student Hotel, the three panelists were Dan Hill (Arup), Roger Nickells (BuroHappold), and Pekka Metsi (Granlund).

ARUP Buro Happold Granlund
Wray, Hill, Nickells, Metsi

The panelists agreed that, to make design and construction better, you should start with people – the users. Nickells called this a radical but common-sense approach to design. Unfortunately, this paradigm shift is still in its early stages in large engineering firms, as Hill acknowledged.

Metsi admitted that the industry is too construction driven, and not customer driven. End users seldom participate in decision making during a construction project. One notable exception is hospital design, where the users join in on the process early on.

Technology helps collect and analyze data on how people behave in buildings. Using that feedback data, we can learn how to make buildings better.

Metsi thinks that the most important metric is the happiness of the users. He envisioned a building where you can give feedback with “one click” anywhere in the building, whenever you felt the need to do so.

Tech investment in the construction industry is still relatively small, but money is a driver of change, as Hill said – huge direct savings, not to mention the indirect benefits, are reachable. Tenants, the end users of buildings, have ambitions, but the industry has not been able to respond to them.

In spite of all the technology, people are important at every stage of the construction project. Cross-industry co-operation, diverse teams, and visionary clients make the industry move forward. It is also important to attract and nurture talent. Best people want to have purpose, as Nickells reminded.

Engineers are good at creating solutions to given problems. They should also learn to challenge the questions, as the panel concluded.

Digital Models and Advanced Manufacturing Processes

Arthur Mamou-Mani, receiver of the RIBAJ Rising Star Award, shared a breathtaking series of images and videos about parametric designs. “Parametric design is like being a gardener,” he said.

Mamou-Mani is an architect, lecturer, and tutor. He uses digital design techniques and computer-driven fabrication tools to create innovative structures.

Buildings don’t have to be permanent, Mamou-Mani claims. Parametric design can create structures that are fast to assemble, but also fast to disassemble. He showed images of the DNA Blockchain Tower, a huge, robotically built and unbuilt timber construction. It is a research project that pushes the boundaries of conservative building methods.

Perhaps themost striking of the projects was Galaxia, the 2018 Burning Man Temple. A group of non-professionals assembled the spiraling timber structure, just like IKEA furniture. It was 60 meters (196 feet) in diameter and 20 meters (65 feet) high. At the end of the event, the structure was burned.

Galaxia (Arthur Mamou-Mani)

Platform of Trust

The built environment creates an exponentially increasing amount of data. Most often, that valuable information is underused, forgotten, and, ultimately, unavailable. Toni Luhti of Platform of Trust claimed that today’s real estate and construction data is a prisoner of siloed systems.

What would happen if we could unleash that data and make it available in a controllable way? We could use it to create better and smarter buildings and cities. We could improve the productivity of construction processes. We could develop new services and innovative business models.

Platform of Trust

Platform of Trust wants to set data free. It is the world’s first built environment data exchange platform and marketplace that is based on a community of trust.

The platform serves the built environment ecosystem of users, businesses, and cities. Its members connect with others’ data and services, creating an exponentially expanding network.

With an authorization mechanism, it lets users manage their data exchange and makes sure that what they receive is trustworthy and complete.

Platform of Trust is a vendor-neutral internet platform. A group of member organizations steers its development, makes decisions, and chooses the platform operator.

Luhti announced at RecoTech that Platform of Trust had just raised EUR 10 million in funding. The Finland-based operation has already gained global attention and will be operational in 2019.

Tieto Empathic Building

Tomi Teikko, the father of Tieto Empathic Building, made the other exciting announcement at RecoTech: Teikko announced that Tieto will provide their Empathic Building Core free of charge to all public-sector buildings in Finland.

Tieto Empathic Building is a human-centric digital service for the users of buildings. It solves everyday problems at the workplace, making employees happier and more productive. It can be used in offices, schools, hospitals, daycare centers, andso on.

The service uses IoT sensors, system integrations, and data analytics. It features a desktop and mobile app, visualizing the physical space, work, and the people within – in real-time.

To learn more, you can read my interview with Teikko from 2017 (the service was then called Tieto Intelligent Building) or listen to a recent podcast interview.

Tieto Empathic Building

And Much More

This year’s RecoTech program was packed with interesting content. Panel discussions, country reports, and other presentations made it the leading Nordic PropTech event of the year. You can listen to my interviews with some of the presenters on the RecoTech podcast.

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