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Boosting the Built Environment

INNOVATION ACCELERATOR PROGRAM SUPPORTS, MENTORS AND HELPS TEST NEW IDEAS

BY SHERYL S. JACKSON

New ideas and new companies often need a boost to test their products, connect with mentors, and establish credibility that leads to funding. That is why Suffolk Capital’s technology arm (Suffolk Tech) has launched its “Boost” program for startups in the built environment.

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“The construction industry has real challenges that can only be addressed if we open ourselves up to innovative technological solutions,” explains Jit Kee Chin, chief data and innovation officer for Suffolk, an AGC of New York State LLC and Rhode Island Chapter-AGC member. The idea for a four-week mini-accelerator program was hatched at the beginning of 2020, but COVID-19 temporarily put the project on pause, she says.

The timing of the launch in September — with a call for applications, from which no more than five finalists will be chosen, and the program cul-minating in December — should be good for the industry and the entrepreneurs who participate, says Chin. “When we look back at the 2008 reces-sion, innovation in the built environment actually increased immediately after, and those who adopted new technology during the recession emerged stronger than those who did not,” she says. “During COVID, we saw increased adoption of remote monitoring and digital collaboration solutions, and we believe this will sustain beyond COVID, which is significant for an industry that typically lags behind other industries in adoption of new technolo-gy.”

The Boost accelerator program represents Suffolk’s commitment to innovation for their own projects as well as the industry as a whole, says Chin. “We want to find strong companies and strong innovators that have a vision, idea, product or track record that can make a difference in the built envi-ronment.”

The first cohort for Boost was launched by Suffolk Tech in partnership with the MIT Center for Real Estate, Bain Capital Ventures, and a new fund to be launched jointly by Romulus Capital and EquipmentShare to help accelerate the adoption of new technologies in the built environment.

Startups selected for the program have access to Suffolk’s network of industry leaders and experts who collaborate with them to address their specific challenges. Boost consists of:

  • Partnership with a senior operational sponsor with deep subject matter expertise in the area of challenge the startup is addressing
  • Lectures and discussion sessions led by Suffolk leaders, MIT professors, and industry influencers
  • Dedicated time with the Suffolk CoLab Construction Solution Director who partner with startups and potentially test their solutions on Suffolk project sites
  • Demo Day that allow startups to share their solutions with targeted industry influencers and investors

Companies that applied to the program represented different stages of maturity, but all were clear about the type of help they needed, says Chin. “They were all asked to define the hurdles they were facing and explain how working with us would help them move to the next level of development,” she says. “We chose participants whose technology would add value to members of our industry.”

Examples of the different stages of applicants who can benefit from Boost include:

  • Nascent company formed by experienced team with established track record, but product not fully developed; Boost helps them refine product ideas through deep engagement with industry experts
  • Early stage company that has developed a prototype product, but the team needs to test it in the field to refine the product through feedback from users
  • Growth stage company with mature product and existing customers; product is being enhanced or extended and the entrepreneur needs to test the enhancements and reach a wider audience for the product

The benefits of a built environment accelerator program are important not only to Suffolk, its Boost partners or to the program partici-pants, but also to the entire industry, says Chin. “We are in a time that requires us to find better ways to build that improve time, costs, quality and safety,” she says. “Boost is our way of supporting the industry to bring forward the solutions of the future.” A

Meet the 2020 Boost Cohort

Five innovative, technology-based companies with ideas that can make a difference in the construction industry are members of the first cohort for the Boost program offered by Suffolk Capital’s technology arm. The companies are:

Canvas: Construction robotics startup that empowers people to build in bold new ways.

Diamond Age: Automating new home construction for the production housing industry.

Flexbase: Helps construction businesses get paid faster and stay cash flow positive with a payment automation platform, construction credit cards and a working capital program.

PassiveLogic: The world’s first fully autonomous platform for buildings that is revolutionizing the way the built environment is designed, constructed, operated, maintained and managed.

THRUX: A cloud-based MEP design environment which improves design productivity, quality and change management while instantly forecasting con-struction cost.

Although each cohort member has a different technology in development or testing, they are all focused on improving the built environment. One cohort member, Kevin Albert, CEO and co-founder of Canvas, provides his perspective on how the industry can benefit from new technology and how his company will benefit from participation in the Boost program.

“Canvas is a construction robotics startup, and our mission is to empower people to build in bold new ways,” says Albert. “The standard drywall toolkit has been unchanged for decades, and it’s an open secret that this arduous process leads to significant musculoskeletal injuries, early retirement for workers and even turns off young people from entering the trade.”

Albert points out that the painstaking process of creating beautiful walls can be unpredictable, which means additional costs. “Our team is comprised of veterans of MIT, Boston Dynamics, Otherlab and trade unions, and our approach brings together the expertise of skilled workers with cutting-edge robotics technology,” he says. Canvas brings unprecedented quality, safety and control to the drywall finishing process by reducing repetitive tasks, high work and site congestion to lower risk on the work site — all in a completely dustless environment, he says. “We deliver better than level 5 quality walls, validated through our advanced computer vision methods, every time, and we pride ourselves on beating the schedule to give contractors control over the schedule by taking what’s often a seven-day process down to two or three days.”

Canvas’ vision is to change the dynamics of drywall, by empowering people with better tools, says Albert. “To do that, we need buy-in and feedback from the best of the best in the industry, and Suffolk is taking a proactive approach to innovation across the company and through the Suffolk Boost program,” he says.

The value to the industry and to Boost cohort members is not a short-term benefit, says Albert. “Construction is complex and multidisciplinary, but by dedicating people’s time across different departments and across different parts of the country, the Boost program enables us to get a holistic view of how to deliver value and improve project outcomes,” he says. “We expect that partnership and value to deepen through Boost, which offers a rare op-portunity to really dedicate both sides of the partnership to solving hard probl