Convincing construction companies to embrace new technologies is notoriously difficult. Now, entrepreneurs like Brittany Harris and Jade Cohen are taking on the challenge — and moving the industry into a new era.
The construction industry has a hard-earned reputation for being slow to innovate, but that could be about to change. 2019 is shaping up to be construction tech’s biggest and most dynamic year to date. According to figures from Crunchbase, US construction tech startups experienced a 324% increase in funding last year, winning nearly $3.1 billion in capital compared with just $731 million in 2017. The upward trend is expected to continue.
One of Pi Labs’ latest portfolio companies, QFlow, has taken on the challenge of tempting construction companies away from paper systems and onto digital platforms. I caught up with co-founder Brittany Harris to talk about her journey so far.
Closing the loop on construction projects
QFlow provides a cloud-based platform that tracks, monitors and predicts environmental risk on construction sites. Its users gain access to real-time data and actionable insights to aid compliance, increase performance, and utilise fresh opportunities. Their solution dramatically reduces the need for manual data handling, which in turn, reduces overall project management costs and frees up team members to focus on other aspects of the job.
It was Brittany’s first-hand experience of working in the construction sector as a civil engineer that inspired her and business partner Jade Cohen, a former environmental advisor in the industry, to found QFlow in 2018.
“We realised that a lack of information was creating bottlenecks for those involved with planning construction projects. At the same time, a massive bank of data was being manually captured on-site but not actually used for anything useful beyond meeting regulations,” Brittany explains. “We saw a clear opportunity to close the loop between what’s planned on construction sites, what actually happens, and what the environmental impact is.”
The global construction sector accounts for 36% of global final energy use and nearly 40% of energy‐related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to estimates by the United Nations. Since the very beginning, QFlow has worked hard to raise awareness around the environmental impact of projects and champion high sustainability standards in construction.
To affect change in a traditionally-minded industry, it has been crucial for the company to make a targeted and convincing business case for sustainability, ensuring the digital platform delivers valuable benefits for their customers. This has meant focusing on monitoring and forecasting environmental risk, reducing the carbon footprint of projects, minimising disruption to local communities, and avoiding penalties for non-compliance with environmental standards — all significant challenges for the sector.
More difficult than making that strong business case for QFlow’s platform has been breaking down barriers in an industry where women are still substantially underrepresented. At the end of 2016, the Office for National Statistics released data indicating that 2.3 million people worked in UK construction — yet only 296,000 of them were women. Government research from earlier this year indicates the problem persists: Today, women make up just 14% of the workforce in construction.
“Overt sexism still exists in the world of construction. The subconscious bias is still very much a problem, particularly when it comes to raising investment,” Brittany explains. “That said, I think women who choose to work in construction are already quite gritty — and you need that same quality to be a female entrepreneur. If anything, knowing you’re part of a minority in that way makes you want to fight harder to move the industry forward.”
Early adopters of the QFlow platform include Canary Wharf Contractors, the firm behind some of London’s largest office complexes, and Sir Robert McAlpine, a leader in the building and civil engineering space. Meanwhile, the startup’s seed round this summer, led by Pi Labs, raised a total of £790,000. The company will use this new capital to accelerate development of its platform and recruit six additional team members in preparation for its expansion into Europe.
Brittany and Jade are certainly making progress in their mission to modernise construction, and dispelling some age-old gender biases in the process. In UK entrepreneurship, the gender issue is also prevalent: Only 16% of 2018’s equity deals went to female-founded companies (down 2% on the 2016 figure). This challenging landscape makes QFlow’s achievements to date all the more impressive.
Pi Labs is proud to be part of QFlow’s mission to reduce the environmental impact of construction, while also delivering impressive business value by streamlining processes and increasing efficiencies across the sector. Download our white paper now for more insights into the world of construction tech.
About the author
Faisal Butt founded Pi Labs Ltd in 2015, after leading, as an individual investor, the first round of investments in proptech start-ups Hubble and Trussle. He and his team at Pi Labs have built a portfolio of 45 Proptech companies across UK and Europe, making the company one of the most active investors in proptech start-ups globally. Faisal is also the founder of Spire Ventures, a personal investment vehicle with a focus on investment in traditional property companies. His traditional property investments include POD Management, Beaumont Bailey, Quoinstone IM, and 90 North, a real estate investment manager which has managed $2bn of real estate assets across Europe and the USA.