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Insights from the Executive Director:


Bob GillespieA Lesson About Sharing –The Shared Economy

Working at an accelerator providing capital and resources to startup businesses, I have the opportunity to consider a large number of companies and their business models.  In our process of reviewing companies, there are noticeable patterns that develop in the startup community. Not too long ago marketplace apps, like GrubHub, an app connecting the consumer to their favorite brick-and-mortar eateries, became a trend and are still now popular.  Now we have noticed more and more “shared economy” companies, such as Uber and Airbnb.  These “shared economy” companies use a web based platform for peer-to-peer consumption and transactions.


Sharing Pitfalls

Shared economy companies may be red hot in the market right now, but many struggle to overcome fundamental difficulties.  Each “shared economy” company is attempting to use an unregulated workforce to run their business and make a profit.  For example, “shared economy” delivery companies use drivers, similarly to Uber, to deliver food or drinks.  While such companies have grown and received venture capital investments, the profit margins are very small.  The part time work force must be compensated for driving on top of paying for the food.  This leaves little for the companies to profit on while keeping prices low.  After all, there are only so many people with expendable income to pay for such conveniences. Upping the price point solved some issues but drove away more customers.  In many cases, the venture capital disappeared along with them.

Another difficulty faced by “shared economy” companies is the lack of committed work force.  The unregulated and part time work force is often unreliable for companies.  At times the tasks asked of employees go unfulfilled especially for companies that use their platform to provide work like laundry service, cleanings, or maintenance.   Problems materialize when service providers take too much time and money to perform the tasks.  This coupled with an unpredictable task schedule make matters more difficult.  Without the consistent work force needed for any successful “shared economy” company, many just can’t make money.

Trends for Success

Relying on the delivery of above-par service from a part-time and unregulated workforce seems to pose too many challenges to be profitable. In saying so, you might assume that we doubt the validity of shared-economy companies and would not consider them for elmspring. That isn’t the case. If a startup is based on the shared economy principles it must fit the model perfectly and overcome the fundamental difficulties of the shared economy.  The “shared economy” model isn’t for every business especially if the trend is a detriment to their bottom line. A startup might have to consider devising new rules, adapting regulatory measures, and consider their workers’ long-term job satisfaction and benefits—just as the most successful shared economy businesses have had to do to survive. Jumping on the bandwagon and building a shared- economy business might seem like a sure thing in the moment, but moments are fleeting. And true business success for the long term must always take precedence over trends.


Stay tuned for the next blog in Bob’s series, you can check out the previous one here!

Big Announcement… Elmspring 2016’s First Five Companies

We are pleased to announce the first half of our participants for elmspring 2016!  This session started on July 25, 2016, and will welcome eleven new startup companies in total.

Our aim of supporting disruptive technology in real estate continues with the upcoming cohort.  In addition to the support offered in previous years, this year will include changes to the program aimed to further their growth.

The 2016 elmspring Session is not only going to be our largest cohort to date with 11 companies but will also expand to include investor relations in the last month of the accelerator. We continue to improve the experience for our elmspring portfolio.

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Here is a bite-sized look at our first five companies:

MarketSquare: MarketSquare is an end-to-end marketplace for furniture and home decor, bringing digital innovation to the traditional furniture consignment business model.  MarketSquare’s online-first approach provides both buyers and sellers increased transparency, efficiency and overall value. Focused on the Chicago market, MarketSquare serves customers within 50 miles of the city.

Enodo Score: Endo Score is a predictive analytics platform for the commercial multifamily real estate industry that objectively measures the investment grade of multifamily properties. Analyzing real-time data from public and private sources, Enodo Score’s machine learning algorithm untangles each of the factors that drive returns in multifamily investments—helping users determine how aspects like renovations, competing developments, proximity to public transportation, the addition of a pool or job growth rates will affect investment returns in every market across the U.S.

Kahoots: Kahoots is the creator of the Kahoots App, a digital assistant for the modern realtor. The app saves realtors time by qualifying leads and smartly routing them to significantly decrease follow-up time from hours to less than five minutes. It integrates with existing CRM and lead systems and provides brokerages with analytics on new lead follow-up and ensuring existing clients get personal check-ins from agents.

Capital Construction Solutions: Capital Construction Solutions (CCS) is a knowledge sharing platform to mitigate risks in construction. CCS has created a safety mobile application (CCS Safety) that reviews a list of 7,000+ best practice safety questions depending on the category of work (180+ categories) being performed. In addition, the command center website allows companies to tie together all Apple and Android devices into a single safety enterprise reporting tool. Their goal is to ensure a safe workplace and provide a quantitative and intuitive tool for all employees. CCS will be developing 17 more applications to eliminate friction points in the construction industry by the end of 2018.

Blue Crates: Blue Crates provides an on demand storage and moving solution. With a technology enabled platform that allows users to catalog and recall their items from the comfort of their homes, Blue Crates allows users to store and move their things on demand without lifting a finger. Blue Crates provides affordable convenience and helps customers extend their closets and reclaim their space without the hassle of having to use a traditional self-storage unit.

Tom Bretz, co-founder of elmspring , says of this upcoming class, “ We are excited to see how this cohort will fare in the start up world. Our commitment to growing companies in the real estate industry continues to touch many aspects including logistics, data, and the construction field.”


We welcome our teams into the elmspring offices this summer and can’t wait to see them grow!


Insights From the Executive Director: Unicorns vs. Racehorses

Bob Gillespie


This blog is the first in a short series of observations, thoughts and opinions from our executive director Bob Gillespie.  Through this series, Bob will be sharing insights into the real estate tech world and how to invest in it.  With over 20 years’ experience in consulting, technology, leadership and operations, he has a keen eye for tech trends and wise investments that makes him invaluable to us here at elmspring.






Unicorns and Racehorses

Unicorn this. Unicorn that. All I hear people talk about is unicorns. No, not the mystical creature, of course, but the privately held companies with valuations over $1 billion that have been deemed “unicorns”.  Those elusive and attractive start-ups that continue to grow to IPO.


Image Credit: yosuke muroya | Flickr


The Real Story Behind Unicorns

While unicorn companies have been the hot topic in the tech arena over the last few years, the market does not seem to be in their favor. The nature of a unicorn company is to grow wildly through steady streams of venture capital. Their valuations become so inflated that once going public, they have a difficult time surviving the ups and downs of the market. Since 2014, The Wall Street Journal notes of the 48 venture funded tech companies, considered unicorns, 35 are below their IPO price. The unicorn model may benefit investors like in the short-term, but, once public, are they really worth the investment?


A View on Long Term Growth

While the unicorn is highly sought after, everyone is chasing the “valuation” and not the successful company.  Don’t get fooled by some arbitrary, inflated valuation.  I would rather look at something less sexy like racehorses, or something like a cockroach that can survive in nuclear war. A whole slew of steady, reliable racehorses are a much better investment than throwing darts at a bunch of iffy concepts hoping to find one unicorn. Find reliable companies that are poised to scale rather than concept start-ups. Our focus is on companies with good fundamentals that have measurable and sustainable growth metrics, real customers, revenue and cash.  These companies, or “racehorses”, often have great returns.


Elmspring will continue to invest in the racehorses.  While many companies gamble on the one in a million unicorns, we are placing our bets on those who have what it takes to finish the race.  Hopefully, one of our racehorses will turn into a unicorn – that would be great.  We start with quality businesses where the fundamentals make sense.