SHB Exclusive: Nicholas Porter of GSA Discusses Launch of Student Housing Operating Company Yugo

by Katie Sloan

Denver, Colo. — Nicholas Porter of Global Student Accommodation Group (GSA) has launched Yugo, a Denver-based company focused on student housing operations.

The company was created through the merging of three international operating brands under GSA’s umbrella — The Student Housing Company, Nexo Residencias and Uninest Student Residents with the U.S. operations of UComm. Yugo’s global portfolio will encompass 95 properties across nine countries, with 45,000 beds across more than 75 cities. In the U.S., Yugo’s 29 communities span 19 states in cities such as Philadelphia; Columbia, Missouri; Minneapolis; and Seattle.

In an exclusive interview, Student Housing Business sat down with Porter to discuss the launch of Yugo and plans for the company moving forward. 

Student Housing Business: Tell us a bit about the decision to move forward with a global brand and how expansion to the U.S. enables that to take place?

Nicolas Porter: This has been a 30 year journey. Once upon a time, I was the same age as students when I started out. Many things have changed since I was at university — there was no internet or mobile phones. Today, every one of our customers is a digital native. Ten years ago, I had a vision that we needed a global, connected powerhouse in this space — a real change maker that recognizes the needs of students. For me, this is my eighth economic and political cycle in the past 30 years, and through every single challenge the higher education sector has come out even stronger. The combination of that and the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented moment in history, has continued to reinforce momentum and the need for health and education. We’re also seeing access to the world of information happening at a pace we’ve never seen before. We’ve been working for three years to create what Yugo is today. We’ve been very deliberate and have undergone comprehensive global research to help form the company. The timing is perfect — COVID-19 actually reinforced the need for Yugo. 

SHB: How are you going about rolling out the brand? And how long will it take?

Porter: What we call our celebration day is scheduled for November. That’s when we’ll turn on Yugo for the customer, universities and the world. Our current launch has been about getting our brand name out there, enabling us to bring our team from around the world into training for branding, operations and technology so that when we go live, that’s it. We’re focused on the user experience and the ability to get instant reaction and demand for what students need to do and to make their journey from leasing to living as easy as possible. We have exceedingly passionate and bright employees at our properties that do great things, and the past 15 months have shown us all what people are about. Our team has made sure to take care of every resident through the course of the pandemic. Some of our team members are even escorting students to graduation whose parents were unable to attend due to travel restrictions. That’s what Yugo is about — providing operations down to that true, human level. 

SHB: How are you going to differentiate between yourself and other student housing management firms?

Porter: We have three pillars at Yugo — Yugo Eco, which is all about true action around sustainability; YuPro, which is an educational platform built to provide tools to help with what students are studying in university and their life in the future; and YuGrow, which includes initiatives beyond the physical and emotional ability to look after your wellbeing, aiding in each student’s personal journey. The number one issue students are concerned about worldwide is climate change and the future they’re moving into. The second concern is how they can make an impact personally. It starts with practical steps and part of Yugo will be our pledge to eliminate single-use plastics in our community. We will do that by educating thousands of young people, allowing them to tell their friends and family about what they can personally do to help the planet. These are small examples that are unique to Yugo. We are also the only truly global provider, and that gives us power in terms of partnerships with people that want to be involved in what we’re doing.

SHB: Tell us about the name. Where did that come from and what does it mean?

Porter: We needed a simple, connectable and real name that — regardless of language — you could understand. All of this is underpinned by our proprietary technology platform called Yuniverse. 

SHB: Is there anything else you’d like to get out to the industry about Yugo?

Porter: We’re merging the three operating brands under GSA’s umbrella that are outside the U.S. under Yugo. What that facilitates is the true benefit of opportunity to drive greater scale and greater investor returns for both GSA and Yugo. It is a symbiotic relationship that will deliver huge value both ways — being an expert in both areas but being linked as part of a family. We want to be a force for good and that is ultimately what this is about. We want students to live their best life and we want to make a difference. 

Randall Shearin and Katie Sloan

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