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Upside Collaboration Co


Real money invested in neighborhoods, controlled by residents, funded by enabling real estate development.

UPSIDE provides tools for communities to receive and manage long-term direct financial benefit from new developments happening in their backyards — and enable developers to build projects faster and support the economic vitality of the neighborhoods they build in.

With UPSIDE, the developer controls the asset. The community controls their own share of the profit. Each has real power, without undermining the other.

At its most basic, UPSIDE combines a digital governance app with a community benefit trust (CBT), a legal entity that is controlled by local residents and distributes profits from local real estate assets.

How It Works

Our mission is to improve real estate development in the short and long-term to enable better economic outcomes for both developers and the people of the neighborhood.

The Upside approach works within the traditional real estate process, helping development get off the ground, while generating neighborhood value for the long-term.

A CBT is formed

Upside Collab Co helps community partners and a willing real estate developer or landlord form a CBT that will be attached to a real estate asset. The CBT becomes a silent limited partner (LP) in the real estate project; the trust itself is managed by the community for their own benefit; and every resident in the UPSIDE area (18+) is eligible to vote. If a community has 1,000 (adult) residents, then 1,000 people can vote.

Real Estate Project Generates Revenue

Once built, as the project makes money, both the developer and the CBT make money. Residents are 100% in control of reinvesting their wealth back into their community.

Residents Invest Profits via Digital Governance App

UPSIDE provides a platform that makes community engagement and democratic decision-making FUN and accessible no matter your expertise, level of education or time availability. UPSIDE is similar to municipal participatory budgeting but without the top-down, red tape and with added tech infrastructure to support social networks and civic engagement.

Our Story

Upside's three founders have years of experience working at the intersection of real estate, equity and inclusion, social impact, and technology. We have been working to solve some of the most complicated problems in cities for many years, like housing crises, racial and gender wealth gaps, eroding trust in democratic systems, and a lack of meaningful community engagement. We've learned that while change is often required, making change can be confronting and hard on everyone, including those who want and need it. We launched Upside Collaboration Company in 2023 to build something that takes care of the change in a way that takes care of people.

Our role in equity work

As co-founders, we strive to make tools that ensures real estate investments truly and directly benefit everyone in the neighborhood. We cannot do that without understanding the history of a place and how that history has shaped the present: who has made decisions, who has benefitted, and who has been left out of the conversation. When we recognize the harms of the past, we can together envision a better future.

As part of our equity practice, we begin by positioning ourselves and our own identities in the work, recognizing the power and privilege we hold, and being mindful of how to use that power to drive better outcomes. Our team is led by white people. We believe the burden of solving the problems created by historically racist policies and practices in real estate and development should not fall solely on the shoulders of the Black, Indigenous, racialized and other marginalized communities who have been disproportionately impacted. As white people who have been beneficiaries of an inequitable system, we see our role as helping to change the system, not on behalf of others but in partnership. We believe the policies and practices of the past - and in some cases, the present - hurt everyone, and an equitable future is the only way forward.

Meet The Founders


Alison Novak (she/her)


Alison is a real estate development executive with a focus on sustainable and equitable development practices. At Sidewalk Labs she was head of the urban development group which provided advisory services to clients across the nation, helping them set ambitious and innovative goals addressing inclusive development and climate change. Prior to Sidewalk she was a principal at one of New York City's premier real estate development firms, The Hudson Companies Inc, where she also co-founded a WBE construction company and worked closely with the property/leasing management business. Under her leadership, Hudson launched its first two institutional investment funds, its commitment to green building (including the world's largest Passive House building), and its internal initiatives for Equity, Inclusivity and Diversity. Alison was responsible for the development and management of over 4,000 housing units and specialized in mixed use, mixed income projects. Alison has also worked in the public sector, working for the City of San Jose, and for the last 15 years has been and continues to be an active board member for multiple New York City non-profits including The Osborne Association, and member of W/X, Women in Housing & Finance and the Urban Land Institute. Alison holds a BA in Community Development from Grinnell College, a Master of City Planning and a Master of Science in Real Estate Development, both from M.I.T.


Chrystal Dean (she/her)


Chrystal works at the intersections of real estate development, technology, and communities, with a focus on economic equity and community governance. She is a convener and collaborator across sectors and between communities and institutions. At Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet company, she led the theory of change for Sidewalk's inclusive growth practice, engagement on equity, inclusion and diversity (EID) with clients, and developed accountability structures for the company's social impact and EID practices. She led complex, large-scale public participation and community engagement processes for the company, including building partnerships with Indigenous treaty-holders and other equity-deserving communities. Prior to joining Sidewalk Labs, Chrystal was Executive Director of the Self-Help Resource Centre (SHRC), an organization with a mission to build empathy and create universal access to better systems through peer support. As WorldPride Manager for Pride Toronto, Chrystal steered one of the largest international events ever hosted in Toronto, including the first-ever WorldPride Human Rights Conference. She was recognized by the City of Toronto for her contributions and granted the Rainbow Warrior Award by the International Lesbian and Gay Culture network.

Chrystal has lived on three different continents and worked on projects in Australia, the UK, Canada, and the US. She lives in Toronto with her wife and son.


James Burns (he/him)


James is a PhD economist, tech entrepreneur and product leader who has worked at the intersection of media and technology for the last 15 years. His first company GoPop was acquired by BuzzFeed where he built their video engineering team and later led the consumer products engineering team. Most recently, James served as the CTO at The Recount, a political news media startup. While completing his PhD in economics at Harvard, James co-founded metaLAB(at) Harvard, an experimental research unit exploring the intersections of arts, media, and humanities and was an instructor at the Graduate School of Design, where he taught a course on technology, media arts and the city. In addition to his PhD in economics, James also holds a BS in mathematics from Stanford University. James lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.

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