Candid Conversation With Jakob Stoumann of Denmark
Marc Penzel, Founder & President of Startup Genome: Okay. Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining in for today's Candid Conversation. We have Jakob Stoumann from PropTech Denmark, who's going to talk to me a little bit about what PropTech is, how that's relevant to Denmark, and what he's working on with PropTech Denmark. Hi, Jakob, thank you so much for joining.
Jakob Stoumann, Hub Director of PropTech Denmark: Thanks a lot for being here.
Marc Penzel: Would you quickly want to introduce yourself to the audience?
Jakob Stoumann: Yes, I'm Jakob Stoumann. I'm the Hub Director here in PropTech Denmark, and I’ve worked here for two years, and before that I worked a decade with clustering and innovation policies in a Nordic consultancy company.
Marc Penzel: Perfect, and for us, I mean, PropTech is a subsector of innovation that's been talked about quite a lot in each of our member ecosystems. We'd love to understand, you know, what is PropTech? How do you see it, and what are some of the global dynamics that you've come across? That would be very interesting.
Jakob Stoumann: Yes, so PropTech is really a concept that describes, you know, all the new digital technologies, digital solutions, digital business models that improves the way we finance, develop, design, build, use, administer, and operate our built environment. So it's a rather broad term, and I see two drivers in PropTech. Of course, it's about technology and about some of the new technologies, IoT, AI, and all that, but it's also about the more user-centric, design-driven approach in real estate which real estate hasn't really been used to.
Marc Penzel: Yeah, it makes sense. When we were actually in Denmark in Copenhagen a couple of weeks ago, my co-founder and I, meeting with the Deputy Mayor and meeting with a few other stakeholders from the community, and we've been talking a lot about developing Denmark or Copenhagen into a green entrepreneurial nation and city, and I would think that PropTech can be at the front and center of this development. Is that right? Would you see it the same way?
Jakob Stoumann: Yes, it is… it simply has to. I mean, 40% of our carbon emissions comes from the built environment, so if we want to be a green nation, a green city, PropTech has to be one of the key verticals here, and a lot of things are going on in that area, also in Denmark, and it is also one of the big global drivers at the moment in PropTech. That is, the sustainability and the race to carbon net zero, which is really putting the real estate sector on the big pressure.
Marc Penzel: And as you probably know, Denmark and Copenhagen have created quite a strong brand globally for leading the green transition, the green movement. I'd love to hear what's happening for PropTech in Denmark. What are some of the initiatives that you're working on? What are some of the initiatives that you're seeing as part of PropTech Denmark? That would be very interesting to our global audience today.
Jakob Stoumann: Yes, so first of all, it's a big thing and we have a lot of startups in this area. It’s a lot about, at the moment, right now, it's a lot about data. It's about understanding your building, how you operate your building, your energy systems, because without that data, we cannot improve them. So it's actually just finding out where we are today, and then on top of that, you know, using AI, using IoT, to actually manage your energy systems a lot better. There's a lot of energy to be saved here. And I've heard numbers that up to 80% of all HVAC systems in buildings are managed wrongly, so there are enormous potentials in this, of course. In PropTech Denmark, we have various initiatives, and whereas the sustainability is almost always a part of it. Right now, we have Nordic PropTech Awards going on in collaboration with the other Nordic PropTech Associations where one of the key verticals is sustainable building operations. We also have some partnerships with larger partners such as Coor Service Management, where we also look into green, sustainable facility management solutions and helping Coor in that journey towards sustainability, so it's really a hot topic here.
Marc Penzel: What I'd love to understand, because this is top of mind for many of the ecosystem leaders we're working with around the world, is how you organize yourself as a cluster organization and how you're really trying to bring together the PropTech ecosystem of Denmark, so to speak. If you could talk a little bit about that, that would be fascinating.
Jakob Stoumann: Yes, and actually, I’ll just maybe talk a little about the history of PropTech Denmark to understand us and who we are and where we are today. So, two years ago, nobody really understood what PropTech was in Denmark. Some people talked about it, but it was still… that PropTech isn't that… a little bit, just a buzzword, and it'll probably disappear in some years. It’s only a few guys going around and talking about that, and then some really foresighted people in the sector established PropTech Denmark, and just in two years, we have become one of the strongest and most organized PropTech associations in Europe. And today, nobody doubts that PropTech is really important in Denmark, so we really made, I think, a big difference in just two years. And I think what we've done is really not to talk too much about tech, because I think that's often the problem in many of these tech ecosystem hubs that is too much tech, and what it ends up with these tech talking to tech, so what we’ve really done is really talking, trying to talk the language of real estate, because the ones we really want to change is real estate. We have lots of innovative guys and girls in PropTech doing great solutions. But the real problem is not so much the solutions; it's actually the demand side. It's the market, it’s the real estate that should understand these new possibilities, this new way of doing things, so we really focused on talking their language. We can also say a little roughly following the money. Who actually has the decision power? Who has the investment power in real estate? And going to them and talking their language, talking about business development, talking about efficient building operations and not so much about tech, so I think this has really been the key to our success.
Marc Penzel: Interesting, and do you see that real estate developers are coming together as a community in Denmark to talk about some of these challenges and some of these opportunities, or is it rather competitive and siloed?
Jakob Stoumann: No, I mean, we're the example that exemplifies that the sector has started to get together, and they can also see that they cannot digitize alone. I mean, you need a digital value chain to do this. It’s like with sustainability. You cannot be sustainable alone; you need your value chain to be sustainable. So PropTech Denmark, today we’re comprised of more than 160 members. And more than half of these are established real estate players, and many of them competitors, so they have come together in our community, so they have started talking. Of course, it's like in all sectors, there's something that we compete about. I mean, we don't share business secrets and core business ideas, but there's also a lot that we can share. Problems with integration between systems, talk about how can we standardize some of the systems that they'll be using, making life easier for everybody.
Marc Penzel: And I know it's sometimes a bit of a tough question, but I'll ask it anyway: Is there anything, during your previous months and years of experience in leading PropTech Denmark, say anything, any initiative that you'd say you're proud of? Something that grew to be more impactful and bigger than you imagined in the first place?
Jakob Stoumann: Yes, again, I'll go back to getting the demand side, what we’ve really been trying to do. We also have activities for startups and for the tech suppliers that are more focused on classical growth activities and making them understand the sector, but we do a lot of partnerships with the large established real estate players, some of the largest in Denmark. And what we do there is we work with them and making them understand, some of this is educational, some of this is technological, inspirational, learning them how to work more systematically with innovations in or helping them… maybe they are going into senior co-living or constructing a whole new district and trying to inspire them. How can technology actually make their business a lot better? How can they secure their really huge investments by also implementing technology in this in the future? And in doing this, we also get the possibility actually to introduce a lot of our startups to them. So it's a win-win situation, so we really work to mature and inform the demand side, and then the other side, it gives us a channel and a funnel for startups so we can present many of their solutions, many of their ideas to some players that, elsehow, could be very inaccessible. So I think our partnership programs are really something that I am really proud of. We call them also premium members, because they are really members here.
Marc Penzel: Fantastic. I'd love to talk a little bit about startups, now that you mentioned them, and how do you bring them together? Are there any that stand out for you in terms of the innovative solutions that they’ve built?
Jakob Stoumann: Oh, there’s so many. That's hard for me to mention them, and they're quite different fields, I think, also showing diversity here. We have companies like Good Monday that is basically a marketplace for facility management. We have Proper that is completely automated property management. Just some examples. We have Legacy, which is an automated CO2-accounting solution specialized for real estate, so there are many different companies. And what we do to bring the startup system together, I think, first of all, what we really try to do is to bring the startups together with the established real estate players. Some of that we do through our partnership programs, but we also have thematic events, on, as an example, sustainable building operations, and what we would normally always do is to, of course, give some speaking time to startups, to standing on stage and then often afterwards, having a panel of debates with our big real estate players, so they can give their feedback to the startups and come with their view and their reality and their needs. So that's one thing. Then we also have more classical startup activities. We have the Nordic PropTech Awards, which is only for startups. We have actually also a small lab here, a PropTech lab, where we gather some of our members, typically the early-stage startups. We have classical growth webinars on how to do sales in real estate and all these kinds of things. So we also have a lot of activities. And then one thing we're really focusing on is the building of tech ecosystems, because what we can see is that the future of real estate will really be tech stacks that are integrated with different specialized solutions. So what the easiest option, we learned, is that you need to be open. You need to work with open APIs. You need to go together and create joint solutions and joint offers to the real estate players, because real estate players are not interested in ending up with 170 different silos in the end. They need integrated systems. So we're really also focused on that and making the startups come together and make strategic partnerships among the startups also.
Marc Penzel: Through your work, would you say you've seen a few examples where you brought together the right real estate developers with the right startups and, in that sense, help both of them achieve their objectives on the startup side? You know, have a first set of customers on the real estate developer side, being able to procure innovative solutions that would help them down the road?
Jakob Stoumann: Yes, I think, in several occasions, we have done that. And even sometimes, you know, I've met startups that didn't realize that they were PropTech startups, but after talking to us, they have realized, that their solution is just perfect for real estate companies. Then we help them find their way around the sector and introduce them for relevant players. One example is Legacy, this CO2-accounting system. They were, in the beginning, actually targeting just normal SMEs, and after a talk with me and the Urbantech Program that we're in here, they realized, “This is actually real estate. The solution’s perfect for that.” And I recommend them, and gave their contact details to some of the biggest Danish pension funds, which are their clients today, and that really kickstarted their growth in PropTech. So yes, we have examples of these.
Marc Penzel: Amazing. Are there any specific incubation and acceleration programs in the country that real estate entrepreneurs could look at or…?
Jakob Stoumann: Actually, right now, we're kind of a vacuum. We have the Urbantech Program for four years, but that is just closing down now. So we are also looking to, should we do any specific things on real estate? But the truth is also, I would say that we'd kind of collaborate with many other accelerators around the world. There’s the +impact [Accelerator] Program, run by Danske Bank, WeWork, and others which has, right now, a focus on PropTech. Right, they are right now focused, physically based in Oslo, but they're basically a Nordic program. But we’re actually looking into that now and considering if we should have some kind of dedicated PropTech incubator accelerator program.
Marc Penzel: And at the same time, as you mentioned, you're also looking into building international connections, right? With programs, innovators, real estate developers.
Jakob Stoumann: Exactly, and we are in contact with many also international accelerating programs and VCs and so on, and that we send that a lot of VCs and other accelerator programs looking to the Nordics, sustainability, also the UX, the design aspect, which is really asked for in real estate right now.
Marc Penzel: Perfect. So perhaps that's a call to action for some of the listeners, and some of the joiners that are in PropTech, right? To reach out to you and see if there are opportunities for them to participate or engage with the Danish PropTech ecosystem. What are some of the priorities that you're working on right now? What are some of your objectives for the next year?
Jakob Stoumann: So some of the objectives going on for next year is really to… we built this really strong organization now, and I can sense that we’ve got a reputation out in Europe as one of the strongest PropTech associations. We’ve got a really huge international network, so now we want to capitalize on that. And also making Copenhagen a strong international hotspot for PropTech. This will involve, of course, enlarging our partnerships with international PropTech societies, but we’re also now planning a larger PropTech symposium in Denmark. We will invite all the huge investors, a lot of international speakers to this, to really make Copenhagen a hotspot for this. We’re also part of a larger ecosystem here in the building we’re actually in called BLOX, which is basically a big ecosystem for all kinds of organizations working with sustainable urban development. And together with them, we’re also working in making the building a showcase in sustainability in PropTech, and we also have international partnerships going on with them. So we're really trying to reach out and pull expertise and investments into Denmark.
Marc Penzel: Likely speaking our language; it's so important for local ecosystems to connect and integrate. The updates for the PropTech symposium already, all right?
Jakob Stoumann: Yes, right now, it's timed to be the fourth of March, but it's not written in concrete because there's still something up in the air and there's also, we sense a little bit of insecurity around the Corona[virus]. We are right confident that things will be alright in March, but you know, it's now, we need the partners and so on. So we're looking at it, but it will be in… so far, it's the fourth of March. And another big event, which is also coming in May to Denmark: it’s CREtech. CREtech is one of the biggest PropTech fairs in the world. Several fairs in both Europe and the United States, and they have their first climate summit, CREtech Climate Summit, and that will be held in Copenhagen in May so there, we will also, of course, help them to make a great climate summit with a focus on PropTech in the real estate sector.
Marc Penzel: Very good, very good. Looking forward to that. I think, Jakob, this is about as much time as we had. Looking at the symposium, looking at CREtech, I mean obviously, I'd like all of our listeners to look at this event and potentially participating. I wonder if there's any other last word or message, call to action that you'd like to share with the audience today.
Jakob Stoumann: Yes, just say that the Nordics is a really good place for scaling and PropTech business. We are really in front of digitisation here, and the real estate sector is actually accessible. You know, there's a lot of trust here, and I would say that we can help many PropTech companies to scale in the Nordics and Denmark and, of course, especially if you have solutions within sustainability, tenant experience, data-driven decision making, and so on. They are really asked for here in the Nordics also. And, of course, also if there are any investors out there, we have a great PropTech community here. So there are many good coming investments here in the coming years.
Marc Penzel: That's great, and I guess you could be the point of contact for those people that are interested in connecting with the Danish PropTech.
Jakob Stoumann: More than welcome to contact us. We also have an international membership where we have kind of soft landing services for international PropTechs that are looking into the Danish and Nordic markets, and we also have special membership and services for investors.
Marc Penzel: Perfect, and where can you and the team be reached?
Jakob Stoumann: You can, of course, always reach us online. All of our contact details are in our webpage, which is PropTechDK.dk. And yes, I think that's the easiest. We are physically located here in BLOXHUB in Copenhagen.
Marc Penzel: Okay, perfect. Thank you so much, Jakob, for your time. Really appreciate the insight into PropTech and how it's really working in Denmark. Really keen to follow your progress and looking at the events that are coming up. Good luck, all the best, and hope to catch up with you soon.
Jakob Stoumann: Thank you very much, Marc. It was a real pleasure being interviewed by you.
Marc Penzel: Perfect. Have a good day. Speak soon.
Jakob Stoumann: Thanks. Bye.
Marc Penzel: Okay. Thank you so much.