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Ashkán Zandieh, founder of RETechNYC, on stage right at the Hacker Challenge at WeWork SoHo-West in New York City. (RetechNYC)

At one of his first jobs at a startup in Germany, Bernhard Mehl got sick of sharing just five keycards with 50 employees. “The doorbell was always ringing for people to be let in,” said Mehl. “It was a distraction, but it’s a problem every fast-growing company has.”

Mehl cofounded KISI with Maximilian Schütz and Carl Pfeiffer to bring digital entry systems to smartphones without having to completely rework existing entry systems. “The system was built to work with older buildings,” said Mehl to Crain’s. “We estimate that 70 percent of all [tristate area] real estate was built before 1960. Kisi is designed to work with almost any existing lock and access control system.”

Kisi won the NYC Next Idea Competition in 2013 and moved their operations to the United States. Originally intended as a direct-to-consumer model, Kisi has since pivoted to target multifamily and office landlords. One of the company’s first clients was the New York University Poly incubator located in Brooklyn where Kisi had offices.

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Bernhard Mehl, cofounder of Kisi, presents at the RETechNYC Hacker Challenge (RETechNYC)

This past July, Kisi took the grand prize at a “Hacker Challenge” sponsored by RE:Tech, an advisory firm, and ULI New York for real estate–based apps. “It was a great opportunity to get in front of a lot of property owners,” said Mehl.

Ashkán Zandieh, founder of RE:Tech, was one of the judges, along with Jared Kushner of Kushner & Co., Dmytro Pokhylko of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, Jesse Middleton of WeWork Labs, Chase Mattison of Salesforce.com, James Nelson of Massey Knakal, and Alexander Pease of Union Square Ventures. RE:Tech used a site called ChallengePost.com to gather the initial submissions, from which ten finalists were chosen to present before a live audience.

Jared Kushner, CEO of Kushner & Co and one of the event's judges, (left) speaks to the audience at WeWork Soho West. (RETechNYC)

Jared Kushner, CEO of Kushner & Co, and one of the event’s judges, (left) speaks to the audience at WeWork Soho West. (RETechNYC)

As part of the prize, KISI will participate in upcoming RE:Tech Demo Days in New York City and Boston in October, said Zandieh, which will feature other startups in the real estate space, including Fundrise and HonestBuildings. KISI will also be hosting a demonstration booth at the ULI Fall Meeting at the Javits Center in October. KISI has begun working with larger landlords such as Two Trees Management Company, Ironstate Development, and Rudin Management Company.

Although the smartphone-based entry system has both incumbents like KwikSet and other startups like KeyMe and Keycafe, Zandieh thinks Kisi has a unique offering. “They are a service, but they really are a hardware platform as well,” he said.

Accoding to Mehl, one example of this is a pilot with Rudin using KISI’s technology to better manage its own energy management systems, powering down lights, HVAC units, or elevators until an authorized individual activates them. There is also the potential for better security, says Mehl, as KISI’s system can be tied into a human resource database that keeps track of new hires and departing employees.

Zandieh says that, along with health care and education, the real estate industry is ripe for the kind of innovation brought about by startups like KISI, 42Floors, and CompStak. “RE:Tech wants to help equip the real estate community with as many arrows in their quiver as possible,” he said.

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An illustration of how KISI can work on a variety of devices. (KISI)