Building REAL diversity in commercial real estate

The real estate market is booming.

An innovative program in Cincinnati is helping to make the market more accessible to minority real estate professionals. The Real Estate Accelerator Lab (REAL) is an immersive nine-month program to improve expertise and expand networking for minorities in commercial real estate field.

The program is now accepting applications for its next cohort. The applications, which can be found here, are due June 30.

“It’s meant to increase the diversity of the commercial real estate development world,” says Deborah Dent, executive director of the Urban Land Institute. “Diversity in the broadest sense.”

The program was conceived about three years ago by the Urban Land Institute and Local Initiatives Support Corp. as a way to expand the participation of women and minorities in commercial real estate.

“It can be intimidating and daunting to get ahead in this field,” Dent says. “It’s assumed you need generational wealth. This helps connect the dots for people.”
Leaders of the two groups put together a board of directors that included professionals from the Cincinnati Development Fund, the Port, the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky African American Chambers and other organizations and real estate firms.

They secured sponsorships from some of the largest real estate and development companies in town, as well as from banks, law firms, and corporations. They recruited trainers and mentors who volunteered their time as members of the Urban Land Institute to share their expertise.

In May 2020, the first class of 23 early- and mid-career real estate professionals graduated. The first group that graduated was composed of 80% people of color, and 50% women.

Recent graduates include professionals from TriVersity Construction, The Port, Al. Neyer LLC, KeyBank, and Working in Neighborhoods.

The Lab program consists of nine day-long sessions, one a month on the first Thursday of every month from September to May. The students and instructors take deep dives into site selection, master planning, design and construction, using architects and contractors, securing financing, legal issues and terms and technology.

This year’s class, in five teams of five, had five months to create a real estate company to develop commercial, urban, infill projects from The Port’s land bank portfolio. The plans were judged by the program’s mentors, and the winning team received $500 each and a two-year ULI membership. One team is moving forward to actually develop the property, Dent says.

Tuition is $1,500 for ULI members and $1,750 for nonmembers. Scholarships are available, especially for those who are self-employed or who work for nonprofit organizations.

For the program, the Urban Land Institute says it looks for people ready to assume leadership positions or those who have an entrepreneurial drive to move forward real estate development in their communities. Proficient knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel is needed and a minimum of five years of experience, which can include education, work, or real estate investment or a combination of those.

Applications are still being accepted through June 30. The application can be found here.

Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.