As real estate investing gets more expensive, Rhove offers small-time investors a chance

Erica Thompson
Columbus CEO
Calvin Cooper, CEO, Rhove

While raising money for other entrepreneurs, Calvin Cooper had a trillion-dollar idea for a venture of his own.

It would be an app that would allow anyone to invest in commercial real estate for as little as $1 per share.

Cooper even had a willing investor. The only catch was that he’d have to leave venture capital firm NCT Ventures, where he’d just made partner.

“I loved what I did,” says Cooper, 33, who is a Downtown resident. “I loved working with entrepreneurs. I loved being an advocate for them. And I didn’t want to let my family down because I was ‘making it.’”

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But Cooper took the leap and became CEO of Rhove, which he founded with Jonathan Nutt, Jon Slemp and Scott Sumi. Based in the Short North, Rhove launched on the app store this summer for iPhone.

“Rhovers” can use the app to invest in featured properties in Columbus—including mixed-use property Gravity in Franklinton—and other states like Colorado, Illinois, South Carolina and Oklahoma. They also can submit a property, such as the apartment building where they live or a favorite coffee shop, and petition to invest. There’s also opportunity for investors to chat with each other.

The Gravity apartment, retail, and office complex at 500 W. Broad St. in Franklinton.

“The barriers of entry [in real estate] are getting higher and higher, and home ownership is getting farther and farther out of reach,” Cooper says. “Our vision is that everybody in the world should have the access and opportunity to invest in and own the places that we live, work and play.”

The economic conditions for millennials have only worsened amid COVID-19. At age 30, 42 percent of millennials own homes, compared to 48 percent of Gen Xers and 51 percent of baby boomers, according to a report by Apartment List. Additionally, there are stark disparities across race: The rate for white millennial homeownership at age 30 is 2.5 times higher than that of Black millennials.

However, ownership is occurring in the digital space with non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and cryptocurrency. According to Cooper, real estate investment can operate in that same decentralized finance (DeFi) ecosystem, which doesn’t rely on traditional intermediaries, like banks and insurance companies.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to drive around town and know what neighborhood you should invest in, but it [traditionally] takes a millionaire,” he says. “... It shouldn’t be that way.”

Cooper’s passion and perspective are shared by Brett Kaufman, founder and CEO of Kaufman Development, which created Gravity. Kaufman was the investor who originally encouraged Cooper to start Rhove.

“We’ve seen tremendous transformation in different sectors over the last 10 to 20 years, when you look at the emergence of Uber and Amazon and all the ways that people are doing things differently,” says Kaufman, 46, of Bexley. “And how people are able to own and invest in real estate is something that I think is ready to shift.”

Cooper projects that a billion global investors will own a trillion in real estate through the Rhove app one day.

As for local impact, community advocate Robert Leis says Rhove will support growth in Columbus.

“As more residents come in, we need more housing units,” says Leis, 35, of the Near East Side, a digital business analyst. “And by being able to have a tool like Rhove that allows you to invest in some of these properties, that helps developers come up with much-needed capital that can be used to construct more units faster.”

Born in Dayton, Cooper grew up on the North Side of Columbus. He says he was inspired by his great grandmother and grandmother who owned real estate.

He went on to study economics at Capital University. Before landing at NCT, he worked for Ohio Sen. Ray Miller, and for the Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council.

Dwight Smith, president and CEO of Sophisticated Systems, praised Cooper’s work for the latter.

“He was very good at it, and helped a lot of people,” he says. “... I was glad to see him be so successful in that role, but I was super excited when he started getting closer and closer to entrepreneurship. I think the company that he’s building is going to be the next unicorn in central Ohio.”

ethompson@dispatch.com

@miss_ethompson

Rhove

629 N. High St., Columbus 43215 • rhove.com

Business: App allows anyone to invest in commercial real estate, regardless of income or size of professional network.

Employees: 12

CEO: Calvin Cooper

Revenue: Would not disclose.