Amid an increasing wealth inequality, an entrepreneur is looking to close the gap — through real estate. And Philadelphia just might be the city to foster it.

What started out as a road trip with friends and an unexpected detour around Temple University in 2016 led award-winning entrepreneur Philip Michael to a business deal that could represent the future of real estate, technology, student housing, and wealth equity in Philadelphia. 

Michael, in partnership with Martin Braithwaite and their media and fintech investment platform NYCE, situated their real estate project in Philadelphia’s growing ‘Philicon Valley.’ The first housing unit TEMPLE 1 is a 100-bed, tech-powered student housing development near Temple University available to students and designed to foster innovation and provide real-life work experience. Michael said he hopes the tech hub, or “living accelerator,” will cultivate a partnership with the University, in which students can take advantage of a micro VC fund, pitch days, and mentorship opportunities.

Michael makes for an unusual landlord with a unique crowdfunding model via Republic to offer equity interests to investors, encouraging millennials of color to participate in the process and begin to generate their own wealth. On October 21, 2020, when the campaign closed, the project had raised $360,000 from 1,272 investors.

“I wanted to create a living space where [the students] could go out and bridge the gap between the classroom and the boardroom, and give them the tools to learn how to create businesses themselves,” Michael told The Plug. “We’re all about creating more opportunity and access while allowing the local people to take part in the business model of gentrification.” 

Michael said that while he understands the negative connotation society often attaches to gentrification when done with proper communication with the surrounding community, it can allow for a symbiotic relationship and an end goal that satisfies both parties. 

“In terms of gentrification, it’s just the appreciation in the value of a neighborhood, and others profit from it, and I want to make sure that the people who live there will get to profit too,” he said.

According to an analysis by Prosperity Now and the Institute for Policy Studies, the median wealth of Black Americans will reach zero by 2053 if current trends continue. With research showing that real estate investing has financed 90 percent of the world’s millionaires, Michael and Braithwaite are working to give millennials of color resources to help them get into the market.

“Historically in North America, the lower rung of the economic hierarchy is inhabited by people of color,” he said. “Naturally, it made sense to try to empower and help this group, and give them access to these things, so that’s why I formulated the idea of, in the new decade, helping 100,000 people of color become millionaires.”

The goal, which became the mission statement of NYCE, does not start or end with TEMPLE I. 

With much of society becoming more and more virtual, thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, NYCE provides an entire remote community for those looking to gain resources and tools for success. 

TRIBE, a “wealth-hacking collective,” is the team’s main platform for sharing tips and tricks and highlighting individuals’ successes. Despite the tumultuous past year, Michael said the collective unites people from all backgrounds with a shared goal of building wealth.

The pandemic has also influenced his social media reach, where he gained a following of 53,000+ people on Instagram after a video he recorded outlining four ways the pandemic could make one rich went viral.

Michael, who has also published a book on how to build a personal net worth in 18 months, said it’s all about moving beyond ideas and accomplishing goals.

“Ideas are useless,” he said. “What is your destination? Articulate exactly what it is that you would want to do … and then find a way to get it off the ground without investors.”

He added that above all, what drives him is to give back to the community, and debunk the narrative that only certain demographics are able to access money and build wealth — when in reality, as he said in an interview with Republic, “while there are residual systemic remnants in the U.S. on a macro level, nothing stops the individual from a micro standpoint.”

“Whatever you can give back to society and to the economy and the way it can help contribute to people living in a positive way, creating jobs, creating opportunity, more prosperity because with every new job created, that is one less unemployed person,” Michael told The Plug. “The more people that have, the less people that ‘have not,’ and the less people that ‘have not’ means less crime, less corruption, less people being mean to each other; that’s big.”

This story is part of a partnership with WURD radio covering technology, business, and innovation in Philadelphia. This vital work is possible with support from the Philadelphia COVID-19 Community Information Fund, an effort by Independence Public Media Foundation (IPMF) and the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund (Knight-Lenfest Fund).