Successful commercial real estate investing can look beyond the financial pro forma, and the School recently launched a new case competition to get graduate students thinking seriously about investing with a social or environmental impact.

“The right investment can bring real benefits to a neighborhood,” said School of Business graduate student Yoni Bender during the final stage of the inaugural “Impact Investing in Commercial Real Estate” competition. It was held in April at the J.W. Marriott on Brickell Avenue.

Bender teamed up with graduate business students Ariel Fraynd and Stephen Englert to present “Havana NEXT,” a small-scale apartment development project adjacent to a new Cuban cultural center in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. “We wanted to offer a model for the redevelopment of the area’s small residential lots while staying faithful to the community’s Hispanic heritage,” he explains.

Andrea Heuson, professor of finance, organized the semester-long competition with guidance from the School’s Real Estate Advisory Board. It offered $25,000 in prizes and drew entries from the Northeast as well as Florida. “We hosted the event to educate students about the many types of impactful investing that are available in any community,” Heuson says. “Real estate investment is often perceived as being immune to social issues – but that is just not true, as demonstrated by the many different projects in the competition.”

Heuson adds that impact investing refers to commercial real estate projects that are designed to generate a beneficial social or environmental impact along with an appropriate financial return. The four finalist teams identified vacant or underutilized commercial properties and proposed uses for each site that included at least one of those impact components.

The Rutgers University team took first place and an $11,000 prize, while the Cornell University team was second with a $9,000 prize, the University of Miami team was third with a $3,500 prize and the Florida International University team was the fourth-place finalist, earning $1,500.

“We felt all the student teams made very good presentations,” says Jaret Turkell, managing director of HFF, who was one of the competition judges. Others included Arnaud Karsenti of 13th Floor Investments in Miami and Kasia Pozniak of Prudential Global in New York, whose company prepared a tutorial on impact investing that was sent to the competing teams ahead of time.

Heuson plans to make the competition an annual event and eventually add an undergraduate division.

Spring 2017
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