When you invest with CrowdStreet, you take an active role in shaping the future of commercial real estate. Since day one, CrowdStreet has been dedicated to strengthening commercial real estate markets by empowering investors, developers, and operators to share and engage in opportunities. And while we’re proud of the platform we’ve built and the reputation we’ve earned as an innovator, we always prioritize our responsibility to lead and give back to our communities.

That responsibility is what motivated CrowdStreet leadership to join the Urban Land Institute (ULI). As the world’s largest and oldest network of real estate and land use professionals, ULI is an indispensable industry steward. Its conferences and publications—including the highly-anticipated and widely-read annual Emerging Trends in Real Estate® report—guide the decisions of countless professionals and ultimately influence the look, feel, and function of our built environment.

Three CrowdStreet executives–Tore Steen, Darren Powderly, and Ian Formigle–each sit on a ULI Product Council. So how is CrowdStreet supporting ULI’s mission? What does our company’s involvement bring for investors and sponsors? Read on as Tore, Darren, and Ian share their backgrounds with ULI, their experiences as Council members, and their perspectives on current and emerging trends in the world of commercial real estate.

How did you first become involved with ULI?

DARREN POWDERLY: ULI membership was always a goal for us, going back to when we founded CrowdStreet. ULI is the foremost member-driven commercial real estate organization in the United States, and in the world. To be a part of it, we knew we had to get out of our comfort zones and show up. The first conference we attended took place in Vancouver, BC. We drove up from Oregon, bounced around the hallways, and started meeting people. It was immediately apparent that this wasn’t a pay-to-play situation. You have to earn your way by investing in the organization and contributing.

IAN FORMIGLE: It’s a give-get. You get what you contribute. You attend, bring your ideas to the table, and add to the conversation. You help other people get things done.

TORE STEEN: Keep in mind that ULI is a huge group. It’s technically still a “club,” but it’s enormous. You need to carve out space for yourself.

If everyone attending ULI events aims to support one another, why is it important to earn one’s way in?

IAN: ULI’s membership rolls include the best and brightest commercial real estate people in the country. These are people who have dedicated their entire careers to real estate. They have a deep and abiding passion for what they do and for collaboration. They meet up two times a year at the national level and more frequently via local chapters. It’s a little bit of a think tank—they bring in speakers and create panels. It’s a great forum for learning and sharing.

DARREN: That’s right. But you can’t just jump in the conversation and expect people to be receptive. You have to add value. In 2014, when we first showed up, we were very much a startup and ULI members generally regarded us as such. They considered us this new, untested vendor and held us at arm’s length. Plenty of people saw what we were doing as novel and exciting—here’s this emerging proptech, fintech company—but just as many thought it would never work. We kept attending nonetheless and started winning more and more people over. I would hear, “Wow, every six months these guys show up. They’re persistent. They have more success stories to share. Good for you guys—you’re making it happen.”

TORE: It’s interesting. We’ve been at ULI events for five years now. As we’ve grown, they’ve transformed as well, and that transformation is indicative of the larger evolution in real estate. Five years ago, ULI didn’t really have an area for technological solutions. There were maybe six or seven vendors. They now have mega-booths. Companies and principals are taking these solutions more seriously because tech is embedded in everything they do.

DARREN: It’s like Aaron Ross’s book. Startups and trends go from the impossible to the unlikely to the inevitable. First, people were saying, “maybe that’ll work for a few small investors.” Then it was “I could see that possibly working.” And finally it’s “now I’m invested in CrowdStreet—CrowdStreet is the best.” Early skeptics became customers and ambassadors. It’s a major motivator for people like us who want to break out and be entrepreneurial. You begin as outsiders, but if you persist and deliver for your customers day after day, you’ll arrive. And we’re no longer arriving—we’ve arrived.

Can you tell us about ULI’s Product Councils? How do Councils work, and how did you all end up joining?

IAN: ULI membership is one level. Council membership is at the top of the stack. Councils are the upper echelons. They give members complete connectivity and legitimacy. You’re in the room with experienced commercial real estate executives.

DARREN: As you might expect, they’re invitation-only. ULI is kind of like a fraternal organization. While we knew we wanted to be involved in Councils early on, we couldn’t simply join one.

TORE: You have to be asked to apply. You then apply, get interviewed, and hopefully get accepted. We were fortunate. An opportunity arose for us a couple of years ago when two new Councils came into being. We were asked to be on the inaugural committee for the Transformative Ideas in Business Council, which was then called the “Sharing Economy” Council. I’m now a member of that, alongside leaders from Airbnb, shared workspace companies, blockchain players—lots of interesting organizations.

IAN: I was on a panel for the Redevelopment and Reuse Council. And before I was invited to be a guest, I was an impromptu speaker. I prompted the conversation about Opportunity Zones last fall. You submit topics to be discussed—I threw in the topic of Opportunity Zones. When it came up, I ended up talking about it for five or 10 minutes. Then, when it came time to break out into small discussion groups, mine attracted double the typical number of people.

On the heels of that, the Product Council president came to me and asked if I could provide a real-world example of an Opportunity Zone investment. In fact, we had just facilitated an Opportunity Zone deal in Redmond, Oregon. The sponsor presented about the deal and I got to join in on the presentation. He wound up talking about CrowdStreet as much as he talked about the deal. It showed that the audience that not only can we be relevant, but we were the star of the show. It solidified our arrival.

DARREN: All three of us have had speaking opportunities at the national level and in those mini discussion groups. We’ve contributed knowledge and contributed to the network. We were even featured in ULI’s Urban Land magazine last year. That’s a rare distinction unto itself, but not many companies of our size can say they have three executives on three different Product Councils. It’s something we’re proud of and we take our roles very seriously.