A look at one firm’s attempts to increase the number of women-owned hotels through education, training, and funding
by SUSAN BARRY
She Has a Deal (SHaD) was founded to create pathways to hotel ownership and development for women through education, networking, and mentorship. SHaD’s signature program is a hotel investment pitch competition for early career women, held for the first time in October 2020.
The first event was not without its challenges. Originally scheduled to take place in April, Founder Tracy Prigmore and her volunteer board, referred to as the SHaD Squad, created a hybrid event that put safety at the forefront.
“Hilton and Marriott are our founding sponsors,” Prigmore said. “We used Hilton’s Innovation Gallery at the Hilton McLean to produce a livestreamed final event. Our five finalist teams pitched their deals to a panel of five judges, and the event was broadcast to an audience of around 1,000 viewers.”
“While we initially considered the livestream a temporary solution in response to the pandemic,” Prigmore continued, “it was so effective that we will incorporate it into the program moving forward.”
Pitching teams participated in a multi-module education series that walked them through the process of sourcing, evaluating, financing, and pitching a hotel investment deal. SHaD provided a financial model to assist the competitors in their search for the best hotel deal. And it’s not just a deal on paper; the pitching teams found, evaluated, and proposed real hotel deals, with the chance to win $50,000 in deal equity.
HANDING OUT HARDWARE
Three prizes were awarded. The Viewers’ Choice award, voted on by the livestream audience, was given to Fernweh Partners, comprising Meaghan Carfrey, Nikki Gonzales, and Viviana Wilkins from San Diego State University. Fernweh Partners also received second place from the judges, with a cash award of $5,000 for the team.
The grand prize-winning team was Datcher, made up of Joanne Angbazo, Kristen Collins, and Lera Covington. Named for Jane Eleanor Datcher, the first Black woman to graduate from Cornell University in 1890, the three team members completed their graduate studies at the Baker Program in Real Estate at Cornell University.
Datcher was awarded $50,000 in deal equity, which makes them hotel owners. They pitched an 80-room adaptive reuse project in Detroit, MI. The boutique hotel would be built from an old bank building, with health and wellness services offered inside the bank’s vaults.
It was a long road and required some flexibility along the way.
“As we evaluated the deal we had put together pre-pandemic to determine if it made sense post-pandemic, it came down to our confidence in the market. Because we had done a tremendous amount of research and legwork, we felt certain that our project could weather this storm,” Collins said. “You have to be forward-thinking. As scary as it has been, COVID-19 is not going to last forever. If the fundamentals are there, they are likely there with or without COVID-19. It may just take longer, and you have to prepare for that.”
Covington contracted COVID-19 right before the pitch was due but soldiered on. She said, “I couldn’t let my teammates down. It was very vindicating that we won after all we had to go through to get there. Because we started this deal pre-pandemic and had to pitch in the finals during COVID-19, we really got the experience of leading in a crisis, being resilient, and critically thinking about how we could reposition the project. That’s something you really don’t get from an assignment in school.”
Angbazo added, “This experience closed the gap between academic training and practical training. Doing legwork like calling brokers about different deals was instructive. Speaking to real professionals was definitely beneficial. Once I realized that we were expected to actually call brokers and sellers, I asked my mentor for deal referrals. What I’ve learned is how personal real estate transactions are. Transactions happen between friends, and it’s really about relationships. I didn’t just email the seller of the deals we were looking at; we researched them, talked to them multiple times, and asked many, many questions.”
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
In addition to trying to secure the property, the team continues to work through aspects of the deal they pitched: identifying architects, lenders, and other professionals to help with the project.
Angbazo, an Asset Management Analyst at BentallGreenOak, said, “I appreciate AAHOA’s sponsorship, and I hope She Has a Deal shows how capable early-career women are. I hope it leads to greater and more dynamic programs and investments in the future.”
And AAHOA further supported the event by awarding the winning team an invite to AAHOACON21.
“There are early-career women who are really interested in becoming hotel owners. These types of programs are essential for helping us make the connections and relationships we need to be successful,” said Collins, Strategy Consultant at CBRE and owner of home décor business Abode Impressions.
“We really want to drive home that the competition provides something that we couldn’t get from an academic program,” Covington said. “Not only did it give us the practical, hands-on experience of sourcing and underwriting a deal, but it also exposed us to so many people in the hotel industry. Hopefully down the line, these relationships will turn into transactions and business. That exposure was so valuable.”
Covington will graduate with dual master’s degrees in real estate and regional planning in May 2021. She is seeking a position in real estate acquisitions and investments.
The 2021 SHaD pitching season is well underway, with preliminary pitches taking place in May 2021, and the finals scheduled for June 5. As it was last year, this year’s finals event will also be livestreamed on the SHaD website.
SHaD also offers educational opportunities for aspiring hotel investors, and the organization has launched an investment fund to support women-led hotel-development projects.
“We believe that She Has a Deal is so much more than a pitch competition,” Prigmore said. “I want to make hotel ownership accessible to people who have traditionally been shut out, and I believe our educational offerings and investment opportunities do just that.”
For more information about She Has a Deal or to purchase tickets to the celebratory luncheon, please visit www.shehasadeal.com.