Having worked in the construction and tech industries for decades between them, the co-founders of Antler graduate SiteHive are now taking advantage of a perfect storm in both, bringing their Internet-of-Things (IoT) product to market in a bid to solve a series of pain points.
The SiteHive device is designed to help construction teams measure and monitor the impact of works on the environment around them, in a bid to improve outcomes for the firms themselves, and for people living and working in the area.
The startup recently reached the final stages of the Antler startup generator program in Sydney, securing $100,000 in funding, and a spot pitching to more than 1,000 people at the program’s inaugural Demo Day.
Co-founder Ben Cooper-Woolley has been in the building environment for more than 10 years, including working on “a lot of big, disruptive urban development projects” such as the London Crossrail project and Melbourne Metro, he tells StartupSmart.
“Consistently across them has been the challenge of managing those projects effectively, particularly the environmental compliance aspect of that,” he explains.
Cities with significant works going on — and the people living in those cities — are contending with noise, dust, poor air quality and vibration.
“Keeping a city working as you develop and dig tunnels beneath it is quite a significant challenge,” Cooper-Woolley says.
Having worked in this space for some time, he saw the opportunity here, but “the technology wasn’t quite there yet”, either in terms of capability or cost.
Now, however, it’s a perfect storm for construction tech.
The cost of the equipment was becoming low enough to allow for more pervasive monitoring, and we are in the middle of a “wave of IoT” technology, with the tech just coming of age.
And, while uses for IoT in construction have been explored, “the environmental management bit was largely untouched”, Cooper-Woolley says.
And finally, in Australia — particularly in Sydney — we’re in the middle of an unprecedented era of construction, one that has begun to affect small businesses galore.
It’s no longer just the impact of a single project either, and managing them in siloes is not effective.
“There’s now a cumulative impact that is not very well understood, and not well managed from a regulatory perspective,” Cooper-Woolley says.
“The ability to use data to look collectively and cumulatively at that is now becoming increasingly important for the communities and the stakeholders that are being increasingly disrupted by this.”
For SiteHive, this means “a unique combination of circumstances,” Cooper-Woolley says.
“The cost of sensors is coming down. The pervasiveness of IoT is increasing. The market for construction is significantly big, but margins are historically thin”, he explains.
“Everybody is looking for more ways to protect that margin and deliver things more efficiently.”
While Cooper-Woolley has the industry experience, it’s co-founder Adam Ferguson that brings the business smarts, having worked in tech for 25 years, and as an executive for 15.
“I’m used to scaling tech teams and exiting tech businesses,” he says.
“For me, technology is the enabler, and the process and journey of building something is pretty exciting.”
Already, the co-founders have built 30 prototype devices, which are up and running on construction sites.
While Ferguson admits there will inevitably be things that don’t work as well as they should straight away, “that’s why you go through a prototyping phase”, and market feedback has been encouraging.
But, to build out a full-stack IoT solution will take “a reasonable size investment”.
Having pitched to more than 1,000 people at Antler’s Demo Day event, the founders are looking for backing to take them to the next stage.
Already, they’ve had plenty of interest. In fact, they’ve even been offered an investment, which, as its stands, they have neither ruled out nor accepted.
“It’s great validation that people are believing in our story,” Ferguson says.
At the moment, they’re expecting to close a round in Q2 next year, once they’ve demonstrated the product and proved they can execute on their plans.
Like all the startups in the Aussie Antler cohort, SiteHive is just four months old.
“It takes a particular type of investor to invest at that level,” Ferguson says.
“For us, it’s even more specialised in the sense that we’re doing an IoT play, which means were doing hardware. There are certainly investors who just don’t invest in hardware.”
So, these founders are not looking for any old money.
“We’re looking to find the right strategic partner who can provide us with the capital, but also the market connections to build the solution and/or take it to market,” Ferguson says.
And, in terms of market reach, there’s a significant opportunity here. Cooper-Woolley and Ferguson see a future where they could expand into other industries such as mining or airport management, as well as into other geographies.
“We want to scale the business. We want to grow into something that’s meaningful for the industry but also for ourselves,” Ferguson explains.
“We’re coming in with ambitions to do something significant.”
Avoiding echo chambers
When it comes to launching a new startup that’s set to disrupt a traditional industry, Cooper-Woolley says it can be helpful to get the perspectives of people outside of it.
“Being in the same industry for the last 10 years, you tend to find yourself in a bit of an echo chamber,” he explains.
“Your thinking narrows — even about yourself and your own capabilities — you have a certain perspective about what you like doing and what you’re good at.”
If you mingle with other entrepreneurs with other areas of expertise and different experience, you might just find a new perspective. In Cooper-Woolley’s case, he found a whole co-founder.
“It’s the perfect way to work out what you actually like doing and what you’re actually good at, and find people to compliment you and go on that journey with you.”
StartupSmart was invited to Antler HQ as the official media partner of Antler Demo Day 2019.