Last August, when we convened Real Estate Accelerator Lab, we didn’t imagine how the world would be changed by a pandemic and that the program’s inaugural class would celebrate its successful completion of eight months of immersive real estate development study with a virtual commencement.
Nonetheless, we have completed year No. 1, and 25 diverse emerging leaders are now equipped with knowledge and networks they can leverage for professional achievement and community impact.
This is good; Cincinnati will need the innovation that comes from engaging a diverse cross-section of people to lead us out of uncertainty as a stronger and more resilient city.
Our organizations – the local chapters of Urban Land Institute and Local Initiatives Support Corp. – led the creation of Real Estate Accelerator Lab (REAL) from the motivation to meaningfully expand diversity of race, ethnicity and gender in commercial real estate and development. The idea was to be inclusive; create top-notch classroom learning led by local commercial real estate CEOs and community development practitioners; and assign mentors to each participant for ongoing guidance.
REAL represents a significant investment of time and financial commitment from participants, sponsors, mentors, and the industry professionals who volunteer to teach the classes, build the curriculum and invest in future leaders.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” is a rallying cry for visible diversity leadership, attributed to civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman. For early and mid-career professionals motivated to understand how real estate development works and apply learnings to their projects, the REAL program unlocks a new door to information and professional relationships. REAL provides entree into industry nuances and large-scale projects many may not otherwise see themselves.
There are three powerful takeaways from REAL 1.0 that are informing how we structure REAL 2.0:
Cincinnati is stronger: More minority participation in real estate development, equity investment, ownership and operations of commercial real estate has dual benefits of increasing development capacity and resiliency of our region. The real estate industry must respond to the challenges of a COVID-19 altered world where there will be lasting effects on how people live, work and socialize. No one knows right now exactly how this will play out, but more than ever, we need the brilliance of diverse teams committed to working on lasting solutions.
The industry supports leaders: When we called on the local real estate industry to help establish this program, they could not say “yes” fast enough. Instructors and mentors say they are enriched from spending time with next generation leaders, learning about their backgrounds and professional goals. Cohort members say they gain knowledge on deal complexity, finance, community engagement and other essential elements of successful real estate investing and development. They also report it is amazing to have access to career professionals who make themselves available outside of the classroom for continued mentorship.
Real estate will build wealth: More than a few members of the 2019-20 cohort joined to learn about how the pros make smart investments in real estate and build wealth over time and from multiple income streams. Young professionals with long careers and investment horizons want to explore strategies that will build generational wealth. We heard clearly from the first class that they want to get into the weeds on risks and returns. We are adapting the curriculum accordingly.
Applications to participate in REAL 2.0 are available online. We invite you to join ULI Cincinnati, help us expand diversity in the real estate industry and witness the power of REAL.
Lydia Jacobs-Horton is executive director of the Greater Cincinnati/Dayton chapter of Urban Land Institute, a global nonprofit organization that is the premier source of multidisciplinary research and education in the real estate industry.
Kathy Schwab is executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corp., a national nonprofit intermediary organization that helps transform distressed communities by investing in developing community capacity around a shared vision.