Across the globe, thousands of millennials are starting businesses on the premise today’s smartphone technology can create new value and disrupt entire industries.
Most of these digital revolutionaries will fail, for the usual reasons: they lacked industry contacts, targeted the wrong market, underestimated users’ resistance to new technology, or couldn’t raise capital in a saturated ecosystem.
But Kitchener, Ont.-based Bridgit has found the formula for disrupting markets. Through deep industry knowledge, a tight focus on customer value, and sheer hard work, its founders — Mallorie Brodie and Lauren Lake — are changing the way the construction industry shares data across Canada and in major U.S. cities.
It’s a mission Lake, 24, has taken personally since she began working in construction while studying structural engineering at Western University in London, Ont. “I showed up on a job site with my iPhone, and got handed a clipboard,” she recalls. The hundreds of inputs required in a major construction project were still being recorded on paper, Excel spreadsheets and Post-It Notes, making sharing this information difficult and costly.
Lake, met Brodie, a 25-year-old Ivey Business grad from Western, when they were first chosen for the 2013 cohort of the Next 36, a Toronto-based program that tries to turn deans’-list undergrads into high-impact entrepreneurs. The selected participants were divided into teams and challenged to come up with an app-based business idea in 12 hours. Lake proposed that the construction industry needed a mobile-data overhaul, and Brodie soon agreed. Their quick consensus proved an advantage: They spent the next few hours calling 20 industry contacts, who confirmed this was a problem worth solving.
Then the real work began. Brodie and Lake drove around London “crane-hunting,” seeking construction sites where they could talk to managers and workers about their data-sharing problems. “We interviewed more than 500 people,” Brodie, Bridgit’s CEO, says. Unlike many teams in the Next 36 program, Bridgit didn’t have its own software expert. With a limited coding budget, Brodie says, “we had to make sure we got it right the first time.”
After one or two false starts, they focused on deficiency management. No construction project is complete until every finished element is inspected for conformity to plan. There may be thousands of dings, scratches, and mistakes that subcontractors must rectify before a job is finished. Managing these scattered, dog-eared deficiency lists is difficult and time-consuming; developers and contractors agreed a better system was needed.
Bridgit’s solution is Closeout, a mobile app that helps construction teams better manage deficiencies. Everyone can access the list in real time, see what needs fixing, and submit photos when the work is done. Lake, Bridgit’s chief revenue officer, says Closeout helps construction projects get finished sooner and subcontractors get paid faster. She cites one developer that, using Closeout, reached the substantial completion stage on time, “with a deficiency list of zero,” for the first time, and saving $500,000.
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