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Meet the Most Intriguing Entrepreneur in Boston
Jeff Similien is the founder and CEO of Boston Trust Realty Group Commercial, LLC. An experienced, savvy commercial and residential broker, he serves clients in the Greater Boston area and beyond and has brokered transactions with major franchises such as Dunkin Donuts, Metro PCS, BSW, Frugal Furniture. However, his focus lies in his desire to help hard-working individuals who seek to find legitimacy in the often-inequitable commercial real estate industry. As an award-winning, innovative entrepreneur with “first of its kind” ventures, such as Co-Pad, a co-working hub for entrepreneurs in the Mattapan area, and the imminent launch of the one of the first black-owned cannabis dispensary in the area, Jeff is driven by a deep-seated commitment to level up the communities and his need to be kind, virtuous, and empowering to everyone he meets. He is, quite possibly, the most intriguing entrepreneur in Boston. It was our esteemed pleasure to sit down with Jeff to learn more about his companies and his mission.
You are a founder of “firsts,” so to speak. Let’s talk first about Boston Trust Realty Group Commercial, the first commercial division in the history of Boston Trust Realty.
I joined Boston Trust Realty Group in 2017 and launched BTRG Commercial a year later. We focus on commercial leasing, commercial sales, and finding our clients unique commercial investment acquisitions. We also do residential flips and a great deal of investing as well. Our main focus is on educating our clients to make the best decisions when it comes to selling, purchasing, or leasing commercial real estate properties. We work with owners who prefer trading their assets off market to protect their privacy. As for my day-to-day responsibilities, I’m either assisting an agent with deal negotiation, or working with the owners, attorneys, and finding a way to create urgency and gain leverage on the deal. I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from my Real Estate Design, Construction and Project Management Course at Boston University, so I’m also able to assist clients in developing their vision for a property.
The impetus for your founding BTRGC was, in part, a personal one, was it not?
Yes, it was. Before joining the firm, I served as vice president for another company, but I realized that I wanted to do more; I wanted to work with small businesses in my community to help them attain commercial property or lease a commercial retail space. I got my broker’s license in 2017 and opened my own office, but as it grew, I found myself consumed with back-office tasks rather than working with clients. I joined Boston Trust and launched BTRGC because I wanted to focus all my time on providing value in my community, specifically in the underserved commercial business districts in Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, and Roxbury.
When I travel and look at other cities, I can see a lot of similarities to Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Philly, etc., and from a commercial standpoint, I can see what kind of neighborhood it is. Those things opened my eyes. When I come to my neighborhood and I see the changes across communities throughout my life, that drives me to continue to make it better and improve it. If a developer comes in to build luxury buildings, well, that’s not going to benefit poor people in the neighborhood. The only way to help those people is to build something that benefits them, that lifts the community up.
You are passionate about developing your community through leadership and sharing your vision to help the growth of the Boston. Tell us a little bit about your background and how your experiences informed your drive to help others.
I was born in Haiti and came here as a pre-teen. My father had a successful jewelry business in Haiti, but he knew I wouldn’t have the opportunities he had to create my own business if I stayed in Haiti. When I was 11, he told me, “Look, nobody owes you nothing when you get to America, so don’t expect nothing from anyone.” It was a culture shock when we arrived; it was Mom, my older sister, and I. We came to America for a better life, for the picket fence, a successful career, etc. They tell you “the land of opportunity,” but no one tells you how to take advantage of these opportunities. I quickly realized that if you want to succeed, you have to learn how to play offense and focus on opportunities. The system is built to distract you, prevent you from realizing what’s actually important in life.
Tell us about The Co-Pad. You launched this company to help other entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed, correct?
That was my sole purpose for opening it. I wanted to help small business owners and individuals to level up, and I knew the community needed it. It’s the first of its kind in Mattapan. The goal was to have a vibrant place where entrepreneurs, artists, businesses—anybody—can have a space to work in our community, so I launched The Co-Pad in March of this year as a co-working space designed with the community in mind. We provide all the tools and resources they need to help them scale their businesses, and it’s a great place for them to connect with experts and collaborators in different areas and industries to share ideas and resources.
We have eight modern, private offices, dedicated desks, a team-working table that seats 10, with built-in outlets for laptops, and a conference room that holds 40 people. We also built a beautiful kitchenette, and social areas with a plasma TV and cozy chairs. Our community space is open to the everyone. People use it for yoga classes, marriage group counseling, events, artist showings, and other activities, and Michelle Wo’s team reached out to us to use the space when she was running for mayor of Boston. We also offer courses on a host of topics, including literacy, insurance, fix-flips, and cannabis licensing, and I teach a course on real estate investing.
You are in the process of obtaining your cannabis dispensary and cultivation licenses, and with them, you’ll have accomplished yet another entrepreneurial first—and your third endeavor designed to improve your community. Will you tell us about this?
This is an exciting time, not only for me, but for my community. I’m working on dispensary and cultivation licenses. If granted both licenses, it will be the first 100% black-owned cultivation operation in Boston and a platform that I intend to use to continue to create job opportunities and mentorship in the cannabis space. I’m a businessman, and I saw the cannabis industry as a venture that was going to explode and wanted to get in at the beginning. I have the building, and I’m in the tail end of the process with the City of Boston to obtain licensure.
As if you aren’t busy enough running two businesses and preparing for a third, you’re also active with community initiatives and volunteer work. Will you share some of these?
Absolutely. I’ve always been involved with supporting my community. In addition to my pro bono seminars and courses at The Co-Pad, I played both college and semi-pro football with the Boston Bandits, so I sponsor and volunteer with FTLforthelove to teach children how to play football in Costa Rica. I’ve also volunteered my time with YouthBuild, an international program that teaches low-income youths the skills in construction required to help build affordable housing and other community assets. There, I taught youths about small business and personal development as well as entrepreneurship.
On a final note, do you have a personal philosophy that you live by?
I do, and it guides me every day: “It takes faith, consistency, and hard work to level up!”
Commercial Broker — Boston Trust Realty Corp
1601 Blue Hill Ave., Suite 201
The Co-Pad: https://www.thecopad.com/about