The Urban Land Institute (ULI) is an international non-profit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to shape the future of the built environment for transformative impact in communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the institute has more than 45,000 members worldwide representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines (Developers, Architects, Urbanists, lawyers, Consultants, etc.).
PropTech Lab (PTL) Belgium is the community of innovators in the real estate and construction value chain. They bring together startups, scaleups, and large real estate groups who are interested in innovating, fundraising, internationalization, refining their vision of innovation or even identify the opportunities of innovation.
With a focus on the Belgian market, PTL has over 200 members where they hold educational, practical and networking events. For more information, please visit proptechlab.be, or follow PropTech Lab on Facebook or LinkedIn.
Today, I am speaking to Gabriel Uzgen, CEO of BESIX RED, a member of the advisory board of PropTech Lab Belgium and, appointed ULI Belgium and Luxembourg Chair last July; while on the other hand I have Idriss Goossens, Founder of PropTech Lab Belgium, Founding Board Member of European PropTech Association, and newly appointed co-chair of ULI Belgium & Luxembourg Product Council for Technology & Innovation, together with Arne Allewaert, Managing partner at Amavi.
Gabriel, first of all, congratulations for your recent appointment as ULI Belgium & Luxembourg Chair for the next 2 years. Idriss, congratulations for co-leading the Technology & Innovation Product Council for ULI Belgium & Luxembourg.
Could you explain to us what a ULI Product Council is, and what is its purpose?
Gabriel: Product Councils play a strategic role in ULI. Through the exchange of information and the sharing of best practices, Council meetings offer industry leaders key opportunities to intensify ULI’s mission. The Belgian & Luxembourg Product Councils are forums for Belgian industry experts to meet, exchange ideas and foster thought leadership in their sector. The Product Councils meet three or four times per year. Typically, the councils meet in one location where they will have roundtable debates and presentations from a panel of experts. Councils could incorporate site tours as of their agendas.
In Belgium & Luxembourg, we have today 4 product councils covering the following themes: Offices & Mixed use, Residential, Infrastructure and Technology & Innovation. With that in mind, I have asked Idriss and Arne to lead the Product Council of technology and innovation.
Why did you offer Idriss and Arne to lead the Technology & Innovation Product Council?
Gabriel: The challenges ahead for our industry are critical, especially when it comes to the environmental aspect and, more generally, to ESG. PropTech is clearly one of the solutions to make a positive impact on energy consumption and climate change. We have come to realize that our property technologies market includes a lot of creative minds, who are constantly working on enhancing processes and producing smart and sustainable solutions. On the other hand, we see some kind of resistance; this is why we have decided to purpose this council on being the driving force behind generating fresh ideas and developing industry leading solutions. In other words, we want to help create a connection between technology innovation and the realistic world.
In addition to that, Idriss and Arne are continuously involved in technology and innovation. They are always in contact with a lot of platforms, aware of new products or disruptors in the market, they have a strong understanding of the needs of the people, as well as, they are aware of the pains and challenges that are present in the market, for Belgium but also at a more European level.
Finally, they have both energy and passion. Today, a lot still needs to be done. With the group of experts, they will bring together, they will be able to share ideas about technological solutions and come up with solutions that will help the sector particularly When it comes to environmental challenges.
What made you accept this new responsibility?
Idriss: First and foremost, ULI is a very prestigious organization. A global network that for the past 4 years I have been a member of. ULI is also known for gathering the most important captains of industry and the real estate sector. For that purpose, I believe Arne and I can help facilitate the link between the current built world and the technology world, through introducing new innovative solutions, startups innovators, and new business models.
Second, because we are in contact with companies who are searching for digital solutions and tools to efficiently and effectively solve issues related to climate control, ESGs, cost control, project and risk management and many other sets of diverse technologies, I think it is only logical to be closer and ally yourself with innovators in order to increase a firm’s innovation maturity. This is what we do on a daily basis at PropTech Lab. Among our 200 company members, of which 70% are startups and 30% are large corporations and international players, we help generate more synergies to create a positive impact on the sector, to be more connected to the new needs of the end users, and to increase customer satisfaction and efficiency in the construction sites.
What would you like to achieve with the Technology Product Council?
Gabriel: This is an important milestone for our vision for the future. While we often take the lead in supporting technology-enabled innovations, we are used to a lot of caution when it comes to adopting radical innovations. For instance, before the pandemic crisis forced us to work from home, online meetings were not very common. Whereas now, we have adapted to the change. Following that mindset, I believe having established the technology and innovation product council with Idriss and Arne, we are now more prepared to foster creativity and bridge the gap between the traditional and innovation-driven methodologies of the built world.
Idriss & Gabriel: Ultimately, we want to bring innovation and technology closer to the real estate value chain. That can be done in different ways. First, for example, we could facilitate ULI Belgium & Luxembourg having access to some activities or benefits of PropTech Lab and vice versa. Second, we want to situate ourselves closer to cross-border academia. This means we are not only going to be closer to local research and academic centers but sharing and doing cross-border knowledge exchange is something essential for the future.
One of the other mandates we are focusing on in the Technology and Innovation Product council is to be a platform of information. It can be more specific, but we would like to see how we can unify the thinking process and innovation acceptance in different parts of the countries.
What can we expect from this collaboration?
Idriss: Our ambition is to have an impact on increasing the innovation maturity of the sector. This will be done by organizing at least four events a year which will be a sequence of different workshops with specific topics, tackling the challenges, as well as, the pain points of the industry. We will also organize demo sessions of the most promising startups in these specific innovation themes.
Also, we are looking to involve public actors of the market because we believe that markets which have the highest innovation maturity are being supported by public authorities or are being encouraged to innovate by facilitating permits, stimulating collaborations with startups, or to apply for a public call for tender. Therefore, it seems crucial to include public authorities into the different sessions in the council in the Technology Council, which is at the core of ULI (= bringing public and private together)
What are the challenges you will consider for the future?
Idriss: The real estate value chain is composed of a lot of different core businesses, from the architects, contractors, investors, property managers, and facility managers, as well as across a lot of different asset classes, such as: residential office, logistics, healthcare … etc.
Because the members of ULI are captains of the industry, we want the sector to define itself and with a diverse set of challenges and pain points. That is why instead of rushing to conclusions and solutions, we will first have a session where we will ask a number of questions, such as the priorities, challenges, pains, concerns and ambitions, to all the members of the Technology Council.
No matter what the challenges are, whether they are related to process efficiency, digital transformation, quality monitoring, smart building, smart parking, energy mutualization, customer centricity, or even developing new products and service, we will leave the cards in the hands of the members of the Technology Council to decide what they want to focus on and this is why it is exciting to be a member of the Technology Council.