This month, Columbia University’s first-ever “Hacking for Real Estate Technology” course concluded with student-led presentations in front of a panel of real estate, technology, and venture capital experts. Five teams pitched their company ideas which were developed and refined during a 12-week program.

Co-taught by Zach Aarons and Josh Panknin, the program sought to combine real estate, entrepreneurship, and technology into one seamless learning experience. Students were exposed to guidance from industry executives and startup entrepreneurs, as well as Columbia Business School, and Columbia Entrepreneurship representatives.

“Zach and I have been in the real estate tech world for quite a while and we realized the need to try a new approach,” explained Panknin, an Associate Director and Adjunct Professor at Columbia’s Center for Urban Real Estate. “Columbia offered the perfect environment where graduate students who are eager to learn about emerging technology can gain access to experts within the industry.”

Well-known within New York City’s real estate tech startup universe, Aarons has invested in dozens of early stage PropTech companies like Flip and Breather. He’s also a founding partner at MetaProp NYC, a PropTech accelerator, investment fund and advisory. According to Aarons, the student ideas incubated within the Hacking for Real Estate Technology program have the potential to become viable business solutions. “These students learned from experts, conducted field research, and in the end brought their fresh perspectives to create impactful solutions for the industry,” he remarked.

One of the student participants, Andrew Pandaleon who is pursuing his Masters in Real Estate Development at Columbia, said the program helped him understand how real estate technology solutions go from idea to marketplace: “It’s a doorway into Silicon Valley on the upper west side… This type of class should be a part of every higher level education program if it wants to be on the cutting edge.”

The student teams included:

Building Block is a platform that allows real estate investors and developers/investors the ability to finance deals through crowdfunding from the bitcoin community.

SQRD (Synchronized QR Drawings) is a mobile cloud-based construction drawing management and approval system that saves project teams time and saves owners 100% of the cost on miscommunication-based change orders.

Ameniscore is a platform that allows people to share, by the “exchange of experiences,” characteristics of their apartment buildings and individual units that are not typically shared by landlords and brokers, giving potential renters an idea of “every day” life in the unit.

Hacker Stay provides Chinese students coming to the U.S. to study a means to find units that address their specific needs, such as challenges in transferring money out of China to pay rent, lack of credit history and rental history, and the language barrier.

GreenTape ​addresses the fundamental process inefficiency of the current building permit approval process. It does so through a series of logical & next generation process enhancements.

The Hacking for Real Estate Tech class is just one of the technology initiatives launched by the Center for Urban Real Estate (CURE) and the MSRED program at Columbia University. CURE was also a partner in the recent MetaProp Pre-Accelerator at Columbia University where earliest-stage PropTech entrepreneurs were connected to sources of seed capital, real estate and technology mentors, as well as to deep technology education.

Travis Barrington

Travis BarringtonTravis Barrington is the Founder of, a new media property focused on the commercial real estate technology scene. He is also the Founder of High Rise Facilities, a website and magazine for owners and managers of tall buildings. He routinely participates in real estate events and logs a lot of airline miles from his home base in San Diego.