This January marks Inman’s fifth annual Agent Appreciation Month, which culminates at Inman Connect New York in a celebration of agents at the end of January. Plus, we’re rolling out the coveted Inman Power Player Awards, as well as the New York Power Brokers and MLS Innovators awards.
In a groundbreaking move, Kenya Burrell-Van Wormer and Katherine Winston have unveiled their new initiative, Equity Angels. Their mission is to transform the real estate and proptech industry by supporting “underrepresented, underestimated and underutilized” entrepreneurs.
Equity Angels will provide them with the education, mentorship and community support they will need to be pitch-ready, obtain funding and successfully launch their company.
The birth of Equity Angels
The concept of Equity Angels was born from a shared vision between Burrell-Van Wormer, the former President of the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR) and past Inman person of the year. Winston is a seasoned professional with a 20-year background in technology and startups and a co-founder and head of marketing for Plunk.
Their paths first crossed at the NAR IOI Summit. Since then, Burrell-Van Wormer and Winston have been repeatedly on stage together, presenting data on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The challenge they faced was that nothing ever seemed to improve. They decided to become the change they wanted to see and to help those who would like a seat at the table but didn’t know how to get there.
A Florida Realtor and serial entrepreneur’s great idea that worked
Burrell-Van Wormer recently accepted a new role as the chief growth officer of New Estate Only, the leading international shared platform for finding newly built construction and other opportunities often not listed on traditional MLS platforms.
Burrell-Van Wormer shared the following example:
“Here’s a Realtor who found a concern that needed to have a platform, and I could help revolutionize his business when it came to new construction and new development,” Burrell Van Wormer said. “He had an idea and concept that he brought to life.”
This story epitomizes the essence of what Equity Angels is all about — empowering real estate and proptech professionals with innovative ideas to bring their visions to life.
A key goal for Equity Angels is to reduce the high failure rate of startups by equipping them with the knowledge and tools they need to secure funding and build sustainable businesses.
“We want to help those startups figure out how to gain access to that capital quickly, so they don’t fail, at least during the first few years,” she said.
With this objective in mind, Winston described how his program would work.
“We will pick 10 founders who focus on proptech and fintech solutions,” she said. “Over the course of the six months these founders are in the program, they will receive mentorship, counseling and strategic advice to help them create effective business plans and be fundraise ready,” she said.
Once the founders complete the program, they will have an opportunity to meet with VCs, private family offices, foundations, endowments, etc. in order to pitch their company and hopefully gain access to capital and investors they normally wouldn’t have access to.
Equity Angels will provide a crucial missing element: Education
Burrell-Van Wormer and Winston recognized that education was a crucial element that could help startups succeed.
“Education is the connecting piece that is not only valuable to agents, but to entrepreneurs as a whole” Burrell Van Wormer said.
In terms of the types of educational programs, Equity Angels will be creating their own media.
“That means producing podcasts, webinars, blogs, newsletters, all with the different types of information to help startup founders and the real estate industry at large,” Winston said.
Their goal is to focus on curated content for those interested in startups and to build a community around Equity Angels for anyone interested in stepping into the startup space.
Mentoring: Benefitting from the experience of others
Equity Angels’ education programs will also include mentoring.
“It’s very important to have someone in this industry that has been there before you and to learn from their mistakes,” Winston said.
“It’s also important to have someone who you are able to ask [questions] that you don’t think about until you get into that space, to have someone who’s going to hold you accountable to achieving your goals, to share the mistakes they’ve made and the failures they’ve experienced. It’s okay to fail as long as you learn from that failure.”
How to build the right team
One of the issues Burrell Van Wormer and Winston have repeatedly encountered with most startups is building the right team. A primary challenge is that this can be very costly.
To address this need, Equity Angels will be providing a fractional executive program that will provide C-level executives part-time and at sustainable rates.
“What we’re hoping to do is to be able to source talent from underutilized and underrepresented executives,” Winston said. “That includes baby boomers and Gen Xers who are not necessarily looking to retire, they’ve still got all this great experience behind them, and they still want to give back to the community.”
Partnering with select associations
Given Burrell Van Wormer’s experience as a past president of the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR), it comes as no surprise that Equity Angels will also be looking for opportunities to work with like-minded realtor associations such as HAR and the Miami Association of Realtors. Equity Angels is interested in working with those associations that understand innovation and technology and have a history of putting it into practice.
Equity Angels seeks to tap into the brain trust that exists not only with the local and state associations but with other partners as well.
“We have the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, (NAHREP), the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), The National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) and the Women’s Council of Realtors,” Burrell Van Wormer said. “We have so many groups and segments of individuals who are eager to do more within our space. [We need] to let them know that there is a way to take their idea from concept to execution.”
Working with tech founders
Sheila Reddy, the founder and CEO of Mosaik, who was selected for Inman’s Best of the Best Proptech Award for 2023, “is exactly the type of founder Equity Angels is interested in working with,” Winston said.
For example, Mosaik is streamlining the transaction process from home search, all the way to closing. What’s the most interesting is how Mosaik is utilizing AI in a unique way. Once the AI learns what the buyers are looking for, it will start suggesting different listing suggestions to that homeowner. Every time the buyer clicks on certain things, the agent is notified.
Another founder that Winston said is working with Equity Angels is Stella Hahn, who founded an app called Fractional. According to the Ycombinator website, Fractional is a social platform designed to facilitate fractional ownership of investment properties. Through Fractional, someone can own a fraction of a home for as little as $5,000. This is an exciting advancement in the realm of crowd-funding coming together with proptech.
Practicing before the final pitch
Both Burrell Van Wormer and Winston emphasized how important it is for founders to have experience presenting their products before Realtors, associations and consumers who will be their customers.
Working with associations, they hope to have access to both seasoned and new agents, whether it’s in person or on Zoom, to help founders discover whether they liked their product, whether it was useful to them, whether they would buy it, how much they would pay, etc.
Equity Angels goals for 2024 and 2030
Burrell Van Wormer and Winston have set two big goals for Equity Angels:
- By the end of 2024, they would like to help at least 20 founders.
- By the end of 2030, their goal is to help at least 100 founders.
To apply for Equity Angels’ programs, visit www.equity-angels.com/programs.
Bernice Ross, president and CEO of BrokerageUP and RealEstateC