What is a Small Developer/Builder Shark Tank?

shark girl canalside buffalo
Since putting up the To Do List yesterday, I have had a number of folks ask me “What’s this shark tank thing?”
The Shark Tank is  a platform for recruiting and accelerating the skills of small developer/builders and laying the groundwork for incremental development in a neighborhood or municipality.  It works like this:
  • Recruit likely new developers from the local area with help from local trade suppliers, the Lumberyards, Truss companies, Drywall Supplier, Plumbing, HVAC and Electrical Supply House.  Who among their customers look promising for stepping up their enterprise so they can build infill/retrofit projects at a small and incremental scale.  Make the rounds with the local Chambers of Commerce, the NAIOP, ULI, churches, banks & credit unions and the entrepreneurship programs at the Community Colleges and Universities.
  • Candidates get homework and guidance on how to prepare development proposals for several local sites based upon the Charter and within a prescribed area to “flood the zone” with as many small operators as possible for maximum impact.  They are now on a clock and must focus on completing the homework on deadline.
  • The municipality has made plans for capital projects that make the prescribed area for the projects viable, traffic calming, bike and transit investments, an overlay of code reform and removal of minimum off-street parking requirements. Establishing a Pink Zone (See www.LeanUrbanism.org) as preparation for the Shark Tank event would reinforce the importance of adopting the right code platform.
  • Candidates bring their proposals to a 4 day intense workshop with solid coaches and specialists who help them understand the fundamentals and strengthen their pitches.
  • On the fourth day they pitch their deals to qualified investors and construction lenders who are there because they are aligned in interest with the goals of the effort and have signed on to the criteria that all the deals much meet in order to be pitched to them.
  • Coaches follow up with the developer/builders whose deals are funded and sort out a gameplan for refining and improving the pitches of deals that are not funded with the initial round.
  • While competing for investment the developer/builders form a cohort that can provide continued support.  Coaches will reinforce the realities of the market and the need to build capacity and the right code and public infrastructure to sustain infill and retrofit. Their competition for resources is the conventional development at the edge of town.  There are more than enough sites to occupy all the candidates and the market for infill and retrofit cannot be satisfied in the next 20 years.

5 thoughts on “What is a Small Developer/Builder Shark Tank?

  1. Seth Zeren May 11, 2015 / 4:29 pm

    For the flood the zone concept, what’s to keep current property owners from inflating their expectations of land value? Or, it is nothing and we just move along from people who don’t want to sell, and don’t want to develop…?

    • Ash Jackson May 11, 2015 / 6:04 pm

      I would assume the latter; but since you’re developing incrementally you don’t need a large contiguous land block like you would with old patterns.

      So suddenly a hold-outs turns instead into your neighbor, and maybe they work to add their own incremental piece; or familiarity helps break down potential animosity.

      But at least they’re not a deal-killer anymore.

    • rjohnanderson May 11, 2015 / 6:24 pm


      In the flood the zone approach, the senior developer sets the table for the whole crew and ties up the parcels needed for the approach to have impact. The senior developer is also the point person in sorting out zoning code reform if needed with the city and setting the table with the local banks.

    • rjohnanderson May 11, 2015 / 9:00 pm

      There is some interest from funders in sponsoring the effort beyond the individual city, to make sure that lessons learned can be incorporated into the next effort in a different town. I think small developer builders are the key to keeping infill at the right scale. You don’t want a big lumpy project build by some outfit from out of town that leaves when the project is done. Communities need small operators that stick around to build local wealth and local jobs. Great places need to be built from lots of small accomplishments to be sustainable economically.

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