What does Asia Pacific’s proptech funding dip mean for real estate?

Investors press pause after years of strong growth

March 19, 2020

Proptech funding in the Asia Pacific region declined last year, a sign of general caution among investors toward the tech industry after a years-long boom.

Proptech start-ups raised US$625.9 million in 2019, compared to a record US$1 billion in 2018, according to data from tech media company Tech in Asia.

The decline comes as investors take a step back after years of growth in a commercial real estate industry that has come to embrace technologies like artificial intelligence and augmented reality. But the shrinking numbers don’t necessarily give the full picture, says Jordan Kostelac, director of Proptech, Asia Pacific.

“While venture capital interest in proptech start-ups may have peaked for now, in our work with clients and fellow corporates, we have seen that interest in proptech in Asia Pacific continues to grow and is now beginning to mature,” he says.

Globally, funding for proptech – which includes the likes of sensors under office desks and drone inspections – is still on the rise. After a banner year in 2018, last year the sector continued to register strong funding, reaching US$12.9 billion in mid-2019, according to research firm CREtech.

“Proptech funding plays out differently in Asia Pacific because investors and corporations are a less beholden to legacy systems, and more accustomed to the fast rate of technological adoption and changing market dynamics,” Kostelac says.

Investor watch

The commercial real estate industry has typically lagged in picking up on new tech. This has allowed corporates the runway to play catch up, especially in Asia Pacific. Instead of investing in funds, companies have been collaborating with the tech firms to create products for them or work their solution within the corporates’ offering.

“Investors and corporates alike are taking their time to find start-ups which present the right balance of founder/product-market fit and possess deeper expertise to navigate a complex industry that’s been slower to evolve,” says Kostelac.

“Moreover, the APAC proptech eco-system is less mature than Europe and the U.S.,” he says. “The challenge has always been how best to integrate start-ups or their solutions with the current real estate system to overcome the main points of friction.”

Tech with an edge

Recent IPO disappointments involving tech firms have also affected the growing proptech scene. Investors have become more stringent, focusing on start-ups and products with a clear innovative edge that could deliver benefit and results instead of simply being a start-up offering space as a service.

“This development is a good step forward for proptech start-ups to grow, scale and function meaningfully in the industry,” Kostelac says. “Investors are now aware it’s no longer about growth at all costs but investing strategically in start-ups that could make a difference to the industry or their portfolio performance.”

One of the world’s largest sovereign funds, Singapore’s GIC, started investing in proptech last year. Private equity firm The Blackstone Group recently made a strategic investment into Dealpath, a cloud-based platform which allows acquisition teams to manage deals.

Such investor preferences can also be seen in the funding figures. Pre-series A start-ups experienced the biggest increase in funding between 2018 and 2019 from US$12 million to US$26.1 million. India, too, bucked the overall trend as proptech funding grew nearly 17 times, with US$56.8 million raised in 2019 compared to US$3.4 million in 2018.

“It makes sense for investors to invest in pre-series A start-ups to support initial market research and early product development,” says Kostelac. “As for India, it will always be on investors’ radars; its tech community has produced some of the most innovative solutions in different industries and its proptech sector has great potential as well as deep engineering expertise.”

With more than 60 percent of the world’s population but just 30 percent of the landmass, Kostelac believes that “proptech solutions that address the region’s needs will shape the industry for the next century.”