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Networking, Ice Baths And The Secret To Conquering Aging: CRE’s Best And Brightest Once Again Convene At Bisnow’s Ascent

A group of 2021 Ascent attendees enjoying time on the beach.

MIAMI — You could feel a sense of relief in the air. 

After nearly two years of canceled events and seemingly endless Zoom calls, groups of some of the best and brightest in commercial real estate finally gathered in early November to engage in two activities that seemed impossible only months ago: in-person networking and deal-making.

Bisnow's annual Ascent retreat — where rising CRE professionals come together to make connections, learn from one another, unwind and close deals — was virtual last year due to the pandemic. This month, however, Bisnow was once again able to welcome more than 300 industry leaders to the majestic beachscape of the 1Hotel South Beach in Miami Beach. 

“I love the energy of being in a room with so many leaders,” said Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, former president of StubHub, senior executive at Google and Ascent closing night keynote speaker. “It can’t compare to a virtual event, which often ends up being a one-way conversation.” 

Two 2021 Ascent attendees using their Kliks to exchange contact information.

At the registration desk, attendees were handed an invaluable tool — a Klik button — which is a small device attached to a lanyard holding an ID badge that contains their digital business cards. By simply tapping their Klik button against another attendees' button, they instantly exchange contact information.

At the end of the event, Bisnow staff collected all of the Kliks for a final upload to export personalized spreadsheets for each attendee with the details of all the connections they made over the 48 hours. By the end of the event, more than 5,000 connections were made through the Klik buttons.

After the registration reception, attendees gathered in intimate groups of around 15 spread across the hotel’s rooftop patio to the tropical cabanas at the edge of the beach. Each group is its own “tribe” — these are groups that have been hand-curated by Ascent organizers who spent the last several weeks speaking to each attendee to learn more about their business, investment criteria and goals for attending the event, as well as who they want to meet.

The tribes represent what Ascent is all about: connecting with like-minded peers, discussing deals and best practices, and building intimate, lasting connections with people that go beyond the traditional "here's my card" type of interactions that are typical at networking events. 

A tribe session convenes at Ascent 2021.

When the early evening rolled around, it was time for speed deal-making. As the drinks continued to flow from the outdoor open bar, attendees sat at either side of long farmhouse tables —  debt and equity providers on one side, operators and developers on the other — and were given three minutes to pitch a deal before moving on to the next person when the whistle sounded. The next hour was filled with the sounds of tapping Kliks and clinking glasses as attendees got an opportunity to pitch deals in-person to more people in 60 minutes than they had in two years. 

Next up, opening night keynote speaker Greg Hoffman, a former Nike chief marketing officer and founder of the brand advisory group Modern Arena, explained how brands can stir emotions in their customers to create a deeper connection. 

“Great brands have the ability to go beyond product transactions to create real relationships with their consumers,” Hoffman said.

He said that if companies want to connect on an emotional level with their customers, they need to encourage curiosity, empathy, risk-taking and collaboration within their organizations. 

“It’s so important to find inspiration outside of your area of expertise, that’s where innovation happens,” Hoffman said. “Getting back to events like this, where people from all parts of life are meeting in person, feeling like people again, that’s the key to innovation.” 

Ascent keynote speaker Greg Hoffman, a former Nike CMO and founder of the brand advisory group Modern Arena.

After Hoffman's presentation, attendees once again headed outdoors for an amazing dinner where they were met by event organizers to strategically seat them in order to help facilitate deal generation opportunities. The evening wrapped up with cocktails flowing at the hotel's rooftop pool bar.

Day two kicked off with yoga by the beach and ice baths on the roof to invigorate the group. 

After breakfast, attendees were given the option to attend one of three sessions: An "open mic morning", where attendees were given three minutes to pitch a deal opportunity to the crowd in a Shark Tank — an open forum discussion about the future of capital raising led by Simon Ziff, president of Ackman-Ziff, and Darren Powderly, founder and CEO of CrowdStreet, or a fireside chat about the future of cryptocurrency and CRE.

After the second and final tribe session, attendees spent the afternoon speed boating, competing in beach Olympics, playing Topgolf and tennis, or lounging and networking in a poolside cabana.

At the closing keynote that night, Cassidy explained how companies can better influence their customers to take risks.

“Risk-taking is a muscle you need to exercise and the more you exercise it, the better you are at it,” Cassidy said. 

Discussing business over breakfast as Ascent 2021.

She added that if companies want their team to be better risk-takers, they should make space for authorship within their organizations, create simple, easy-to-follow plans and validate truth-tellers whenever possible. 

After the keynote, attendees chose between several different mind nourishment sessions: a deeper dive into risk-taking with Cassidy; Adam Bryant, discussing leadership development and his book, The CEO Test; a conversation about positive mindset with fitness mogul and breathwork expert Zach Homol; a discussion with author and real estate developer Thibault Manekin about social impact and CRE; a presentation from NYT bestselling author and world-renowned scientist David A. Sinclair on anti-aging and longevity; or a mezcal tasting and history lesson with pioneers of the industry, Del Maguay Mezcal.

In Bryant’s session, he outlined what makes or breaks the most promising executives. He said successful CEOs he knows often develop simple plans that everyone can understand and that clearly lay out the challenges they will face and how they will measure success. 

A group of 2021 Ascent attendees socializing after hours.

Meanwhile, across the hall, David A. Sinclair outlined how he has been working with his team at Harvard Medical School to control the aging process through a mixture of a healthy diet and a unique combination of supplements he takes daily. He said that by following this system, people can live well past age 100. 

“Nothing can substitute for the energy of being in a room with others, especially when you’re telling them how to live an extra 50 years,” he said. 

After the mind-nourishment sessions, attendees arrived at a tropical oasis at the Bath Club, Miami's oldest members-only club, for a private evening in South Beach. They spent the final hours of the event eating, drinking, being serenaded by a local Cuban band, and even enjoying handcrafted cigars in our very own cigar lounge. In the morning, they departed for the airport with a wealth of new connections and potential deals that it would take others years to curate.

And the best part? They have the opportunity to do it all again next year. Ascent 2022 will take place on Nov. 7-9 at the 1Hotel once again. Click here to learn more.