One of the most difficult problems students deal with when they are in college is finding housing, whether they are living on or off-campus. For Ivy League-grad-turned-entrepreneur Derrick Milam, his experiences with student housing as an undergraduate directly influenced his desire to create a company that provides students with easier and affordable solutions.
Milam is the co-founder and COO of Vie Management, a student housing financing, acquisition, development, and management company. After graduating from Princeton University with a degree in public policy in addition to attending law and business school at Columbia University, Milam’s passion for commercial real estate is what drove him to look at business opportunities in the field after seeing his father lose the land he fought to earn.
“My experience at Princeton set the foundation for my interest in real estate development and, more importantly, my effort to serve underserved communities,” said Milam in an interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE. “My father was a sharecropper and the first to graduate college in his family. He and my mother made it possible for me to attend Princeton where I was, as a result of financial aid, fortunate to study, socialize and even compete with the best as the first of my family to attend an Ivy League institution. I learned to set expectations for performance, the same expectations I set for my company today.”
From there, he used his background and the knowledge gained from experience in economic development. He says that his goal is for students to ultimately feel at home while they focus on their studies. “Our goal is to build intentional communities and an environment that enables students to thrive,” continued Milam. “Specifically, our firm develops communities with an emphasis on health, fitness, education, and social interaction.” His firm has since garnered investors from Asia and the Middle East, securing $120 million to use for funding.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, his company has taken steps to ensure the health and safety of students who are unable to return home from school due to closures from the viral outbreak. “COVID-19 immediately changed our business and accelerated some emerging industry trends that will greatly influence our future performance,” he said. “The first significant change is the relationship between private industry and government. [The ] government has designated housing as an essential industry in the effort to flatten the curve, so we have modified our operations to comply with these temporary strict regulations and requirements. We have embraced this change because we are empowered to create measures at the community level to further promote the health and wellness of our residents and teammates.”