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Episode 2: Planning for Workplace Changes in COVID Reality: Real Estate Technology Perspective


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As COVID vaccines rolls out in countries around the world, we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, looking forward to having the pandemic behind us in the near future. While remote work is still the norm for now, many are yearning for a return to normalcy with in-person collaborations and interactions at offices.


With the lessons we’ve learned from COVID about the importance of healthy indoor spaces, we begin to envision what the post-COVID offices will look like, as well as how we can use technology, methodology, and strategy to make workplaces healthier, more productive, and more comfortable.


The following questions emerge: Who will return to offices first? At what point? Who will remain remote? What should entrepreneurs and investors know about opportunities in workplace real estate as some companies consider returning to back to physical offices? How can Fortune 500 CEOs plan for potential office return in 2021 while improving productivity and bottom-line?


This episode features a cross-disciplinary conversation between the following industry experts:


Zach Aarons (Co-Founder/Partner @ MetaProp.vc)

Zach is the Co-Founder and Partner at MetaProp VC. He has funded over 60 startups in the space as an individual and 50+ startups through MetaProp’s venture capital funds. Zach has also worked on large scale mixed-use development projects in Boston and Los Angeles with Millennium Partners. He is a co-author of PropTech 101 (proptech101.com) published by Advantage Media and has experience with real estate development, commercial asset management, property marketing, and commercial leasing.


David Gerster (VP/Investor @ JLL Spark Venture Fund)

David is an investor with the JLL Spark Global Venture Fund, a $100M early-stage proptech fund. He led JLL’s efforts for Eden, a $29M financing with JLL as the lead investor. He also led the investment for OpenSpace. Before becoming VC, David worked in data roles in the consumer web. At Yahoo, he led the project to collect billions of URL clickstreams from Toolbar and record them in Hadoop, creating data for multiple new features in production web search ranking. At BigML, David led the angel round in 2013, a full two years before Amazon and Microsoft launched their “machine learning as a service” products.


John Macomber (Senior Lecturer @ Harvard Business School)

John is a Senior Lecturer in the Finance unit at Harvard Business School. His professional background includes leadership of real estate, construction, and information technology businesses. At HBS, Mr. Macomber’s work focuses on the future of cities, particularly as aided by the private finance and delivery of public infrastructure projects in both the developed and emerging worlds. His teaching combines infrastructure finance (including public-private partnerships), investing in resilience (notably in the face of sea rise in some areas and drought in others), economic development, and the impact of new technologies in delivering new infrastructure and making old infrastructure more efficient.


Dan Ryan (CEO/Co-Founder @ VergeSense)

Dan Ryan is the founder of VergeSense. VergeSense is building an easy-to-deploy space utilization & sensing platform that helps real estate professionals monitor foot-traffic within buildings. Data from the VergeSense platform is used to improve building layout & design, execute dynamic workforce strategies, and reduce energy costs. VergeSense has been at the center of space planning conversations focused on helping companies comply with public health guidelines of social distancing, sanitation, among other applications. As companies plan the return to work for their teams, VergeSense is working to deliver a crucial service in this transitional time.


The conversation was moderated by Iryna Papalamava (MBA’18), previously a Director and Principal at Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures (BCGDV), and currently a Chief Operating Officer at Guardian Direct. This podcast series emerged out of her article entitled “Picking Winners and Losers in PropTech,” a comprehensive guide for investing in real estate tech published in HRER Issue #8.


The HRER podcast series is produced by Dixi Wu and George Zhang, Editors Emeriti of the Harvard Real Estate Review and Executive Editors of HRER Issue #8.

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