This is Part III of a multi-part series, to read Parts I and II, see below.
The construction industry and building trades are undergoing a massive transformation brought about by technology. In this part, Trusscore examines the scope and the implications of that change:
Startups and nimble technology companies are designing software and processes that are being rapidly adopted by construction firms. In Part III of our series on how technology is transforming the construction and building industry, we look at the way the job site is being altered by small tech companies with big ideas
Driven by data
- Tech startups are rewiring the building trades with targeted and bespoke solutions
- New software and new processes driven by technology are solving problems, removing dysfunction, and allowing companies to plan better and get more done, freeing up human resources in the process
- An industry once rooted in physical work is now equally dependent upon data and computer code
Back in 2013, when Mallorie Brodie and Lauren Lake decided they would partner and build a tech-based startup, they had little idea where they should begin or what problem they should tackle. But both had family ties to the construction industry, so they figured that the building trades were a good place to start.
They began “crane hunting,” showing up at construction sites in London, Ont., where they had both gone to university, and set about buttonholing workers – foremen, laborers, architects, and engineers – asking what help they needed, how technology could make them more successful and productive.
“Clear themes emerged, including more strategic workforce planning, the need to forecast future staffing demands and the collaborative access to people and project data,” Brodie says.
The result was Bridgit, a fast-growing, construction-themed technology company based in Kitchener, Ontario, that has raised more than US$36 million in equity financing and has 100 employees.
Bridgit’s main product is Bridgit Bench, a digital, cloud-based software platform that streamlines project management, leveraging data to improve bidding, staffing decisions, tracking and planning.
Bridgit is one of scores of technology companies that have emerged over the past decade that are rewiring the way that builders and construction companies operate. An industry that was once rooted in hands-on, physical work and straightforward machinery and tools, has transformed into tech-savvy eco-system, where data and computer code are just as vital to a project’s completion as hammers and bulldozers.
“Construction technology drives massive improvements in the safety, productivity, and bottom line for general contractors,” Arun Penmetsa, Partner at Storm Ventures and one of Bridgit’s financial backers,” said in October of 2021. “It’s no wonder that half of venture funding over the past three years has gone to ConTech.”
But gaining penetration and adoption of technology in the construction space isn’t straightforward. The building trades have been slow to adapt to change, particularly in the residential renovation space. Many tradespeople rely on the telephone and face-to-face meetings, and view new methods or tech-laden processes with suspicion or aversion.
"Construction, and in particular, residential renovations, is a bit of a laggard in adopting new technology", says Jon Christensen, CEO of BidMii, an Oakville, Ont., startup that connects homeowners in need of renovation work with contractors who are eager for the work.
"There’s a ton of industries out there, where the adoption of new technologies is super easy, and it just makes sense all day long.
“But with residential renovations, a lot of the folks who need residential renovations done, or the people completing the residential renovations, they are not a digital-native group. It's not a group of folks where technology is second nature. And that presents its own challenges.”
But the lack of technological penetration in the construction space also presents what is largely untapped opportunity – if a startup can overcome the challenges of adoption, a broad market exists that can deliver astonishing growth. Bidmii has found exactly that, experiencing 500 per cent growth since opening its doors shortly after the pandemic began.
“The payback can be phenomenal,” says Christensen.
And his secret to building buy-in? Sincerity, authenticity, hands-on attention and, crucially, deliver on value.
“As much as it's a group of folks where maybe the technology doesn't come as naturally, is also a group of folks that have the best sort of BS detectors in the world,” Christensen says, adding it’s a group who are constantly being sold to about “the latest gimmick or the latest gadget.”
He uses the Yellow Pages as an example of the skepticism the building community has where technology goes.
“It used to be good enough for a [construction] business to have a Yellow Pages listing. And then the Yellow Pages moved online. There were a bunch of listing services, but they didn’t deliver the value.
“I’d say in particular, the organic growth that we're experiencing comes directly from contractors who are using our platform and saying, like, ‘Holy cow, this is delivering a ton of value, and it doesn't cost me anything? Right, let's go.’”
For those that do deliver – by solving niche problems, fixing points and tackling dysfunction – the rewards can be rich. Here’s a sampling of a few other tech-based startups that are experiencing success:
Nobody wants to spend the money on a big piece of construction equipment for a one-off job. Dozr is an online equipment rental marketplace, linking those who need equipment – be it a bulldozer, excavator, dump truck, grader, or other – with those who have equipment and machines that would otherwise sit idle. It provides revenue for those with capital tied up in machinery, and it puts equipment in the hands of those who need it on a short-term basis.
Biiibo, based in Toronto, is an online building materials marketplace that delivers on-demand construction and building materials to a job site, reducing downtime for contractors and builders and making them more efficient. The company operates in the greater Toronto area and regions adjacent to the GTA. Launched in 2020, the company has bootstrapped to 60 employees.
ToolBox, based in Vancouver, B.C., connects those who need home services with trusted, verified, licenced, trade professionals.
Bridgit makes a software platform that helps construction companies manage project forecasting, resource planning and staffing.
Bidmii is an online platform where homeowners can post a job and receive bids from interested contractors. Once they select a contractor, Bidmii holds the payment in trust until the job is complete.
Inevitably, technology in the construction and renovation space will improve and become ubiquitous. Likewise, a new generation of contractors will grow increasingly comfortable adopting new methods and processes and homeowners and businesses will have expectations they want met when it comes to their building projects, expectations that technology can help meet.
Technology and startups are renovating the building game.