At last month's inaugural Vator Splash Oakland, the major theme of the event was to highlight the unique and, frankly, under appreciated aspects that Oakland one of the exciting up and coming tech hubs in the country,
As we always do at our events, we held a startup competition, with a total of companies come up on stage, and pitch their ideas to the investors. And, wouldn't you know it, the winner of this year's competition turned out to be right here in Oakland.
That company is OppSites.
OppSites is a start up that empowers municipalities and professional planners to identify sites where increased economic opportunity exists, and broadcast that information to the investment community. The company allows both investors and developers to find investment opportunities that may not be publicly listed, and learn about development priorities and incentives.
The idea for the company came from CEO and Founder Ian Ross, who ran an urban design-consulting firm, which provided urban design and economic revitalization services and strategies to cities throughout California.
"We helped cities to envision their future, and to see what they want to see happen. Whether it was revitalizing a commercial area, or changing what was once a commercial to becoming a mixed used neighborhood with housing, we helped cities figure out where they wanted to go."
But what Ross noticed was that the cities themselves did not have an effective way to seek and attract investments in those areas that they wanted to see grow.
"OppSites grew out of our insight that cities don’t have an effective tool to communicate properties and information about where they want and prioritize investment," he said. "And investors, developers, and brokers don’t have a tool to find properties and information about where the cities themselves are prioritizing."
What OppSites does, he told me, is "create an entirely new type of real estate listing," one with properties that are listed by cities, in the areas where they want to see new investment. It does not even matter if the properties are for sale or not, the cities can still list them.
The website works directly with the cities themselves, and allows them to list properties directly on the site, along with a map of highlighted areas and the ability to search for properties. The cities can list as many properties as they would like.
So far, OppSites is working with a small number of cities, including Oakland, Salinas and Dublin, and it is speaking with others, including Berkeley. Once the company officially launches, which it will do so on September 3rd at the League of California Cities Conference in Los Angeles, Ross expects the number to "vastly increase."
Ross would not disclose how many members the site had from the demand side, meaning investors and brokers, at the moment, but he did say that there were a number of "early
"The best way to describe them is to say they are from a wide range of investment communities," he said. "There a number of different types of investors, brokers, real estate investment trusts, and site selectors on behalf of companies."
While OppSites differentiates itself from other listing sites in a number of key ways, including the fact that many others are driven by brokers putting up listings, while OppSites is driven by community goals. But rather than see other sites as competitors, Ross sees them as much more.
"We see them, further down the road, as partners. We might be sourcing a certain type of listing they may want to have access to," he said. " We can have future collaboration with brokers and listing agencies, since we will have types of listing they are interested in getting, and which are difficult to get."
Ultimately, the listings that OppSites puts up are meant to be mutually beneficial.
"Community goals often go underachieved and unrealized, or at least a large percentage. We believe that’s because they failed to communication where the large percentage of sites that are not for sale, but still lucrative investments, are," he said. "We want to help communities achieve their goals by attracting investments that support long term economic goals."
That helps them get the investment, as well as raise fees, and increase the value of the city by increasing the tax base, and raising the value of properties around it. Cities spend a lot of money on plans, and OppSites want them to get a return,
At the same time, the site is dedicated to create a level of transparency in open government model, by creating access to information for everybody.
"In the past, these types of deal could only been achieved through either personal professional relationships, or through spending the time and money of culling through policies and regulations," said Ross.
Now, OppSites lets anyone have the information, creating a larger base from which the city can draw upon.
The future of OppSites
OppSites is still a very young company. It was only founded this year and has not yet raised any money, though it is halfway through raising a $600,00 seed round and has received $100,000 from participating cities giving early deposits.
But where does it want to go and where does it not?
The company does see itself expanding internationally at some point, after it opens in more municipalities and cities around the United States.
"Out mission is to be applicable, by tweaking where and how we communicate. That would vary state to state, and country to country," said Ross. "There's no reason that the government in Vancouver doesn’t have same goals as any government anywhere."
On top of that, there are also a lot of international investors that looking to out money in U.S. real estate, and looking to develop here, especially China.
One thing that Ross does not see happening, though, is OppSites actually getting in on the investment side of the business, as in helping investors take care of the financial transactions once they find the real estate property they are looking for.
"We have no plan in place to have OppSites serve as a broker, partially because we'd have to have a brokers license," he said. "We are communications tool, and are not transaction based. We only help streamline communications between city priorities and investor preferences."
(Our next event, Vator Splash London is happening on June 19th. Get your tickets to here)
Watch OppSites presentation below:
(Image source: oppsites.com)