Despite pitching against groups with two or three women, Emma Claire Spring of Celeste Companies won the top prize of the the She Has A Deal (SHaD) competition all on her own, securing $50,000 in deal equity through the SHaD Prosperity Fund I, dedicated to investing in women-led hotel projects. Announced at the She Has a Deal (SHaD) final pitch competition on June 5, Emma Claire’s project–a conversion of a 232 room Holiday Inn in Chantilly, Virginia to a Delta by Marriott–not the sexiest of the five final proposals, but clearly is a winning deal.
A May 2021 graduate of Washington State University, Emma Claire wasn’t even considering hotel development as a career until she happened upon SHaD founder Tracy Prigmore speaking at the Hotel Experience Conference in NYC. She started following SHaD on social media, signed up for the competition in the Fall and now she’s not only the winner but has just started working as a Junior Market Manager in Real Estate Acquisitions for Inspirato, a growing luxury hospitality company based in Denver, Colorado.
Exclusive chat with Emma Claire about the SHaD experience:
Were you always hoping to go into the real estate end of hotels after graduating from college?
No! Before SHaD, I would have never seen myself pursuing a career in real estate or finance because I studied Hospitality Business Management with an operations focus, but now it is definitely going to be what I pursue as a career. I'm hoping to learn as much as I can about real estate and finance while I'm still young so that someday I can start my own real estate investment firm. Today is actually my first day of work as a Junior Market Manager in Real Estate Acquisitions for Inspirato! They are a growing, luxury hospitality company based in Denver.
How many hours did you work on this project (roughly)?
I started taking the SHaD MasterClasses in December—12 hours of intensive hotel investment education to learn how to source, evaluate and raise capital for a real hotel deal. However, for my pitch specifically, I worked on it for about four months. If I had to guess how many hours... maybe close to 100?
What was the hardest part for you?
Because I had no prior background in real estate/finance, the financial modeling was the hardest part for me. Making projections about the future is extremely difficult, especially in the COVID environment and never having been to Virginia which is where my deal is located. Making accurate projections about occupancy, rate, interest rates, LTV %, cap rates, etc. takes a lot of time and research, and it's important to be accurate because it directly impacts returns. Doing market research for an area I had never visited (or even heard of) was also a unique challenge!
How did you pick your project?
I pitched a conversion in Chantilly, VA, the hotel is currently a 232-key Holiday Inn and I proposed to convert it to a Delta by Marriott. I chose this project because there are many demand drivers around the hotel such as the Dulles Expo Center, Washington Dulles International Airport, tech companies, national intelligence agencies, etc. I recommended $10.7 million dollars of capital improvements to renovate the property, adding meeting space and an American-style casual dining concept, and to bring on a management company to increase operational inefficiencies.
Were you nervous doing the pitch? How much did you practice the presentation?
I was extremely nervous, especially because I was pitching by myself. When you're just one person, you have to memorize a whole 15-minute pitch, rather than it being broken up between people. I didn't actually finalize my pitch until about a week before finals, but for that week I was practicing probably 5-6 hours a day. I actually recorded myself with voice memos on my phone and would just listen to the pitch over and over again in my AirPods while doing laundry, cooking, going on walks, etc. But yes, I was SO NERVOUS. It was the most nervous I had ever been for anything.
Did the judges ask hard questions?
Yes, I would say they asked challenging questions. However, before the pitch, I made a document of almost every possible question that could have been asked and thought of responses to all of them. That's why my answers flowed so well during the Q&A... I was well prepared! I also knew I wouldn't have a partner to help me answer any questions that I didn't know, so I spent a lot of time prepping for the Q&A portion.
Why do you think your project won?
When I pitched, I explained that it likely wasn't the "sexiest" project judges would see that day, but that it was a smart, solid investment that was conservatively underwritten and structured to mitigate risk. During these crazy and uncertain times, I wanted to pitch something in which investors would be confident. I think I won because although many of the other projects were super sexy, they also had more risk. Perhaps the judges based their decision on which project they would be most likely to invest in at this time, and mine was the safest. My pitch also focused on the key projections and financials more than anything, and I think this strengthened my pitch.
Do you think pitching on your own was an advantage?
It was definitely more work as most other groups had 2-3 team members, but it allowed me to do everything the way I saw fit and pitch the deal exactly as I wanted. I really did not think I was going to win because I was solo, but it turns out that can be a positive thing!
More on the 2021 She Has a Deal (SHaD) Pitch Competition
Now in its second year, the annual SHaD hotel investment pitch competition for early-career women comprises a multi-module education series that walks them through the process of sourcing, evaluating, financing, and pitching a hotel investment deal. She Has a Deal provides a financial model to assist the competitors in their search for the best hotel deal.
It's not just a deal on paper: the pitching teams find, evaluate and propose real hotel deals, with the chance to win $50,000 in deal equity, the award won by Emma Claire Spring. There were two other awards: the Viewers’ Choice award, voted on by the SHaD livestream audience, was given to PEN Investments, composed of Nadia Cismesia, Polina Shavrina, and Emma Toppi from Michigan State University. Second Place, a cash award of $5,000, went to Eden Investment Management, made up of Angel Deng and Kayleen Fan.
“I’m so proud of Emma Claire. All of the pitches were extraordinary, and she really put in the work to stand out. For a solo pitcher to win just shows that, if you want something badly enough and are willing to work for it, big things can happen,” said Tracy Prigmore, founder, She Has a Deal (SHaD).
Five teams were selected at a virtual preliminary round to move forward to the finals, where they pitched live to a judging panel of top-level hotel business executives, entrepreneurs and investors.
“After holding a scaled-back version of the pitch competition last year due to the pandemic, it was thrilling to be able to execute everything we envisioned.” added Tracy. “I am so grateful to our sponsors, especially founding sponsors Marriott International and Hilton, for helping us bring this to life.”
Applications for the 2022 pitch competition will be accepted starting June 24, 2021; the deadline to apply is September 15.
She Has a Deal was founded by Tracy Prigmore to create new pathways to hotel ownership for women through education, networking, and mentorship. For more information and to get involved, click here.