By Meghan Hall
Technological innovation has disrupted the commercial real estate industry in a myriad of ways, from how tenants search for homes, to Blockchain to virtual reality. Increasingly, technology is also finding a home within the built environment, inside of buildings and infrastructure previously deemed as non-technical. Proptech companies can now provide specific data points on everything from energy efficiency to how tenants utilize their property on a day-to-day basis. By many accounts, technology’s impact on the commercial real estate industry has been largely positive, and one company, Seattle-based Red Bison, is striving to help landlords, property owners and managers recognize the impact and importance of technological integration into real estate assets through its in-building networks.
“There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity and activity in this space right now,” explained Kip Spencer, original co-founder of OfficeSpace.com, and now executive vice president at Red Bison. “Office buildings are becoming supercomputers. Buildings originally primarily functioned as buildings, but now there is incredible data that is eye-opening, and it is this huge open space that nobody has really seized. I think what we are doing is really disruptive relative to this industry.”
Red Bison, founded in 2014, offers Extreme Connectivity as a Service through its high-performance fiber optic network. According to Admiral William Owens, Red Bison’s co-founder and exeuctive chairman, the idea to form Red Bison arose after an extensive Naval career and years of industry experience acting as chairman of the board of CenturyLink for ten years and as CEO of companies such as Nortel and Teledesic. Through these avenues, Owens was exposed to advanced communications networks, something he generally found lacking in buildings throughout the United States.
“I have been very concerned over the years as to why the United States is failing in technology,” said Owens, who pointed out that the United States ranks 37th in the world for mobile connection speeds, thereby impacting digitization of certain industries, including commercial real estate. “Our buildings do not run as fast as other nations, like South Korea, Hong Kong, some parts of China, or like some of the smartest cities in the world, like Kigali, Rwanda…So with the realization that we are not doing too well in the United States, and that we need to do better with finding ways to be engaged with the large structures in our country, and seeing lots of companies that have the ability to do this, we started Red Bison about 5 years ago.”
In many other countries aside from the United States, connectivity, where wireless internet has almost attained the status of a public utility, countries invest heavily in bandwidth and wireless infrastructure.
“In other countries, billions of dollars are spent from the government on research and development and support to companies that do these kinds of things, to make sure that companies are keeping up with the innovation of the world,” continued Owens.
Despite the United States’ lag in broadband capacity and technologies, Spencer noted that companies and property owners are eager to learn more about Red Bison’s offerings and the opportunity to enhance their building performance—and also increase employee productivity. Because of tenant and market demand, such technologies will quickly transform from the exception to an industry standard.
“Brokers are telling me that they have got clients that go on tours, the tenant is a tech firm, and they walk in the door and do a speed test, and will choose assets [based on that],” said Spencer. “That is real; that is happening, and that is going to happen a lot more. So, not only do you want to make sure the asset remains strong from a tenant attraction standpoint, but it will be a requirement.”
Spencer and Owens estimate that the value of Red Bison’s network, for a 500,000 square foot asset, is about $400,000. However, Red Bison provides the capital for the installation of the network while building a working relationship with building owners and tenants, who maintain ownership of the data that Red Bison’s network can collect.
“[Other networks] were piecemeal; there was no ubiquitous, single, high-quality network in any building,” said Owens. “And just like our bodies need a nervous system to function, buildings need a fiberoptic nervous system to make a big difference. So, we decided that is our business model…. It is not too cheap to build out a fiber network, but if you have that nervous system, then everything will change for the building. All of the sensors that go on that network, the security systems, there’s huge economy for the building owner.”
The goal is to provide hundreds of gigabits to every user in the building, not just to the building itself, explained Owens. Doing so can not only increase productivity, but also serve as a sound basis for different proptech companies.
“There are hundreds of proptech companies out there, and we see ourselves as not just a propetch company, but we want to energize all of the proptech that is available because we have the network to bring it all into the building,” said Owens.
Red Bison, like other proptech companies, can also provide additional services such as security management and machine learning capabilities.
Red Bison is currently working on several projects in the San Francisco Bay Area that will be delivered in the next several months. The firm has also partnered with CBRE as a preferred provider. Owens hopes to expand the company’s reach across the country, catering not just to major technology companies, but smaller businesses in less urban environments looking to improve their efficiency.
“We are really trying to be selective out of the gate here to work with players that really understand [the product], going in at the top level and developing a true partnership structure,” said Spencer. “…That is our ultimate goal here, to provide the highest performing asset possible. And if you start with that, it is amazing where the conversation goes.”