Julia McElhinney (MRED+D ‘19) was part of a UC Berkeley student team who competed and won the sixth annual Kellogg Real Estate Conference and Venture Competition, which gives students an opportunity to pitch startup ideas and gain valuable feedback from members of the startup and Northwest University Kellogg School of Management community. This is the first time UC Berkeley has won the Venture Competition in its six-year history. The UC Berkeley team's plan proposed to fill vacant ground-floor retail spaces in cities with package pick-up centers and e-commerce pop-up shops.
"Our proposal was inspired by the growing number of retail vacancies in many major US cities, including our home city of San Francisco," McElhinney explained. "Such retail vacancies negatively impact landlords and developers while also detracting from area property values and neighborhood safety and security. In order to address these issues, we proposed launching an e-commerce incubator and urban package center called Click + Mortar."
The Kellogg competition aims to encourage entrepreneurial real estate ventures. Nine international semi-finalist teams were asked to create scalable, profitable real estate business—complete with supporting financials and profit projections—that would rethink traditional real estate strategies and help solve urban and social issues.
The Berkeley team consisted of an interdisciplinary group of students from real estate, law and business backgrounds. They are Julia McElhinney (MRED+D ‘19), Stefan Jeitler (LL.M ‘19) and Haas MBA students Esmond Ai (MBA ‘20), Kyle Raines (MBA ‘21), Nithya Rathinam, (MBA ‘21), and Hind Katkhuda (MBA ‘20).
Raines said their proposed real estate venture, named Click + Mortar, would provide secure delivery options through package pick-up centers—and help businesses that sell mostly online to benefit from small, short-term brick-and-mortar presences in key urban centers.
“We see the social and economic challenges of empty Bay Area retail spaces every day,” McElhinney said. “So we wanted to create a viable and scalable business that would address this issue locally, drive profits, and offer opportunities to expand to other urban areas facing the same challenges.”
The team spent four months researching the concept, talking to developers, property managers, e-tailers, and package locker providers. The idea includes signing discounted, long-term master leases in large, vacant retail spaces; adding package lockers to part of the space; and filling the remaining area with small, short-term retail lots.
“Our students found an incredibly creative solution to an intractable problem,” said their faculty adviser, real estate Professor Nancy Wallace, co-chair of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics. “Their idea is so compelling that they’ve already found real property owners and clients who are willing to sign on if Click + Mortar launches.”
The team members are currently considering how best to bring this business idea to fruition. They have seed capital from the competition’s $25,000 cash prize and an additional $75,000 to apply toward co-working space and legal and accounting professional services. In addition, several investors who attended the event have already requested pitch decks.
McElhinney says that her experience as an MRED+D student prepared her "incredibly well" for the competition, especially because it introduced her to Bay Area industry professionals who were able to consult or provide advice on the project.
"One of the best things that the program has done has been to introduce students like myself to top minds in the real estate field here in the Bay Area. I called upon many of these thought-leaders to vet and help develop our idea over the course of the semester. I also asked my Professional Practice instructor, Cal Inman, for advice on retailing strategies that played a significant role in the development of our business model: Cal himself has really pushed the envelope with shipping container micro-retailing spaces in Oakland and this was a tremendous inspiration for me and my team," she explained. "Our faculty director, Christopher Calott, was very supportive of my participation in the competition and we worked together to develop a capstone research project for me that builds off what I learned as part of the Kellogg Real Estate Venture Competition team for Berkeley for 2019."