Digital transformation is here to stay. We must therefore constantly foster dialogue to increase awareness for all that is and will become digital. Digitalization brings not only opportunities, but also risks that need to be addressed and taken seriously. In my series “Dialogue Interviews” I discuss these topics with leaders in Switzerland, from our member organisations to digital shapers and the brightest minds in the fields of technology and innovation. 

For this edition, I talked to Mario Facchinetti, the driving force behind the innovation network SwissPropTech, a networking platform that bridges property technology startups with the Swiss real estate industry.

Nicolas Bürer: You are the initiator of the innovation network SwissPropTech. With digitalisation and new technologies, where do you see the biggest changes in the real estate market in the next five to ten years?

Mario Facchinetti: The digital revolution will help the real estate and construction industries find solutions to problems that could not be solved so far. It will impact this industry in the same way it impacted other economic sectors. Using new technologies will increase efficiency, transparency, use of data and enhance the user experience with new products and services. The real estate and construction industries will work on implementing these changes in the next five to ten years. Time will tell whether companies outside the industry will adapt more quickly to the new environment and accelerate change.

Nicolas Bürer: How will these changes be felt by customers in the real estate value chain?

Mario Facchinetti: In the short-term, customers will benefit from new products and services when it comes to renting and buying homes. Tenants already see this in more efficient rental processes. It is getting easier to find, view and apply for rental properties. Technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence can help select objects that meet specific criteria. This makes the property viewing process shorter, more targeted and efficient. The increased transparency brought on by machine-supported valuation and comprehensive property histories will have a long-term effect on the market and customer experience.

Nicolas Bürer: How do you rate Switzerland in the PropTech and Building Information Modelling (BIM) areas in a global comparison? And what measures do we need to take to become leaders in this field?

Mario Facchinetti: Switzerland can be proud to be named the most innovative PropTech country in the world by the international Real Estate Innovation Network in 2018. The country has great PropTech companies that tackle problems in the real estate and building industries and provide well-engineered, high-quality products. But engineering is not everything. Marketing and sales are essential to becoming a global leader. On that front, we still have a lot of catching-up to do. Offering startups better access to entrepreneurial role models could help, in my opinion, solve some of these problems.

Nicolas Bürer: What are the main topics you address at SwissPropTech?

Mario Facchinetti: With SwissPropTech, we foster innovation in the Swiss real estate and construction industries. We do that by building bridges between the young PropTech sector and the established players. We also connect decision-makers and tech companies to increase awareness and encourage mutual understanding. More precisely: we support PropTech companies in their three main challenges: access to established players, to investors and to talent. We are happy that the recent study Swiss PropTech, developed in partnership with Credit Suisse, confirms our purpose.

Mario Facchinetti: Nicolas, let me ask you a few questions. Is digitalswitzerland aware of the main challenges that the Swiss PropTech scene faces? Are they similar to what other tech sectors face?

Nicolas Bürer: The challenges the Swiss PropTech faces are similar across the entire startup ecosystem: there is a constant battle for the best talent, the need for a better political framework, difficulties in securing long-term financing and the challenge to scale and go international. I believe the Swiss PropTech is more advanced compared with other tech industries as there’s already an established ecosystem in place. And there is a greater awareness in general, thanks in part to your organisation! The more we discuss and define concrete measures, the better we all get.

Mario Facchinetti: What could collectively be done to face the challenges you just mentioned?

Nicolas Bürer: Different things on different levels. Keeping the bigger picture in mind, we should work on tax improvements on stock options and create a tech or start-up visa, which would help all sectors, not just the Swiss PropTech. At digitalswitzerland, we try to initiate and co-lead on such important national topics. For example, there will be a hearing with the Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin in the third quarter of 2019. In addition, it is crucial to help the Swiss Entrepreneur Fund grow. Investing in Swiss scale-ups is critical to help them prosper and attract new scale-up venture capital to our country.

The next two to three years will be extremely decisive, especially as other tech hubs are already moving fast. As Andreas Meyer, CEO of SBB often says: «In Switzerland, we have only three assets: our mountains, our infrastructure and our brains.» I whole-heartedly agree with this statement. Using developments in tech to improve our infrastructure is of major importance for Switzerland.