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Startup aims to make real estate investing accessible to all

Brian Hartz

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WeRise founder Candice Bradley.

Last month’s GameStop stock-trading frenzy prompted national discussion about the accessibility, or lack thereof, of investment vehicles. Rebelling against what they saw as Wall Street’s unfair domination and manipulation of the stock market, a group of retail investors, using Reddit.com to communicate and organize, sent shares of GameStop skyrocketing in a bid to put a “short squeeze” on hedge funds that had bet on the beleaguered video game chain to fail by shorting its stock.

While the jury is still out on whether the Redditors achieved their goal — some investors made millions of dollars, while others lost just as much; Melvin Capital Management, a hedge fund, nearly went out of business — a St. Petersburg-based startup called WeRise wants to capitalize on the movement to open up investment asset classes to more people and help them build family wealth for generations to come.

WeRise founder and CEO Candice Bradley, a former Raymond James executive who now works for real estate company OpenDoor, said the idea for WeRise actually came to her long before GameStop’s stock price became such a hot topic. She told the Catalyst that she had been talking with her brother about buying a small business and other investment strategies. “We were thinking about what assets, what financial products, would make the most sense,” she said.

With her background in financial services and real estate, Bradley saw an opportunity to create a sort of egalitarian real estate investment trust (REIT) that would allow people who are traditionally underrepresented in the investment world to put their money to work. For a low minimum investment, perhaps as little as $100, she said, investors can be part of WeRise, which aims to buy, improve and eventually sell, at a profit, single-family rental housing in areas that could benefit from rising property values.

Investors, Bradley said, should see a “high single-digit/low double-digit type return.” She referred to WeRise’s strategy as “impact investing” and said the company will initially focus on underserved areas in the Tampa Bay area before expanding its portfolio throughout the state and nation.

WeRise, Bradley added, will strive to keep account fees as low as possible to encourage additional investment, and it will accept funds from non-accredited investors. Also, she intends to create a proprietary online search tool that will allow investors to find and share opportunities, with real estate being just the first of many asset classes the company will specialize in.

“WeRise is an easy-to-use technology platform that allows individuals to search for investment opportunities and invest in financial products that fit their investment style,” Bradley stated in a news release. “They can then bring the opportunities to their friends and family, thereby adding a social investing component that will be important to converting investors with little to no experience. There are multiple financial products that will work. Single-family rentals are a great place to start and will be one of the many financial products that will be offered on the platform.”

WeRise does not yet have any assets under management but it has caught the attention of Seedfunders, a St. Petersburg-based venture capital group. Seedfunders’ Opportunity Fund has invested $50,000 in WeRise, which Bradley said will allow the company to build out its technology platform, ramp up marketing efforts and expand operational capabilities.

“We’re also thinking about campaigns around financial literacy and things of that nature and how can we partner with other organizations,” she said. “I think it will be a very large component.”

The Seedfunders Opportunity Fund is a committed capital fund that empowers the Black entrepreneurial community in Florida through pre-seed stage investments in Black-owned startups. By filling the gap in available “friends and family” stage investments and mentoring, Seedfunders aims to help elevate an entrepreneurial playing field weighted down by decades of systemic racism.

The fund accepts applications from majority Black-owned startups and is open to all accredited investors. Minimum investment is $5,000.

(Editor’s note: Catalyst publisher Joe Hamilton is a Seedfunders partner.)

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