It was long awaited, much anticipated and, thankfully, incredibly well attended. FUTURE PropTech 2019 was a big hit and a truly global affair.
For me personally, it was a unique chance to step away from the Master of Ceremonies role I have become accustomed to over the years to simply enjoy the day as an attendee and exhibitor. Both Emily Wright of EG and Paul Unger of PlaceTech did a great job in that role.
Now in its fifth year, FUTURE has evolved from a small, underground event to a sprawling, must-attend conference. Importantly, this year saw an almost 50/50 gender representation for speakers and panelists, a first for both property and PropTech conferences around the world.
While 2019 is far too late for us to be actively proud of this fact, it remains a vital step towards, as Nikki Greenberg, Founder of Women in PropTech, told my colleague, Will: ‘unveiling female talent.
There is a long road ahead, however, with our most recent research starting only a 9% female founder statistic in PropTech businesses. This needs to and should improve.
The big question is, though, did we learn anything by attending? Because, while one would like to think that every conference is a valuable conference, we all know it’s not true.
The good news is, this year’s FUTURE was jam-packed full of great talks, panels, and debates and the discourse used throughout was more future-looking than I have ever heard before.
What is really striking, perhaps more so than anything, is the role reversal we see at FUTURE. At the vast majority of events and conferences, you find big real estate firms exhibiting from stands and headlining the stages with the PropTech representatives being those who wander around and sit in the audience.
Yesterday, however, it was tech that ruled the roost and representatives from traditional real estate the ones walking around, engaging, and listening intently to what the speakers had to say. Just take a look at the event summary video, created by PlaceTech, at the bottom of the page to get a bit more of the flavour.
It was really great to see, speak to, and overhear these real estate representatives talking with genuine passion and intrigue about the role of tech today and tomorrow, rather than that familiar din of denial.
What’s more, the amount of knowledge that everybody present had was incredible. For the first time, the whole thing didn’t feel like one group lecturing the other with those on the receiving end swinging on their chairs and dismissive chewing gum like disdainful teenagers who know that trigonometry is never going to help them in the real world.
Something else that was unmissable yesterday was the countless number of countries that delegates had travelled from. As the founder of a platform built upon the concept of a global real estate and PropTech community, I was delighted.
I spoke to people from, more or less, every corner of the world and hearing the various states of different global markets was extraordinary, a real insight.
It’s so important not to live in or work in a geographical or cultural bubble, That has rarely been more clear to me. As was to be expected, the big conversations this year, outside of the obvious discussions around tech-adoption in mainstream real estate, were sustainability, the housing crisis, occupier well-being, and open collaboration.
Did you ever imagine a single conference concerning itself with such a broad scope of issues? Did you ever expect real estate folks to be sat together passionately debating the physical and mental health of tenants? There must be some long-deceased property tycoons old yesteryear turning in their graves: when did everyone get so touchy-feely?
Our industry is different and better today because it concerns itself with such issues. The built environment surrounds us. It shelters and protects us. It is where we live, where we work, and, often, where we play. So, the real question is, how did it take this long for those in the industry to recognise the responsibility we have and, to be a little more commercially minded, the opportunities that rise through fulfilling that responsibility?
I spoke to my new friend from Nigeria, Roland Igbinoba, and his descriptions of the current state of PropTech in Nigeria sound so, so familiar. They’re exactly where the UK and US, etc., were 10 years ago: listings platforms and a growing interest in facilities management.
The incredibly opportunities found in Nigeria’s emerging market are extraordinary. The question is, will it take local government and real estate firms as long to realise this as it did over here? One hopes not.
I think that’s my overriding take home from yesterday - opportunity. There are many wise people who consider such events little more than industry talking shop, an opportunity to come together and wax lyrical about the astonishing progress of change when, in reality, the industry itself experiences sluggish, reluctant progress.
Conferences like this need to do more to impact this change as it is only going to get harder to help as they dig their heels in.