Michelle Killoran, director of OMERS Ventures, has long been looking for a construction technology startup to invest in. The space intrigues her, but so far she hasn’t come across a company whose model is convincing enough to convince her to get her checkbook.
Meanwhile, Jim Barrett, Chief Innovation Officer at Turner Construction, faced a similar challenge. There were many companies that tried to solve various problems in the construction industry, but not necessarily the problems that his company was facing. In context, Turner is one of the largest contractors in the US. Founded in 1902, it achieved reported revenues of $14.4 billion in 2020. Based in Toronto, Ontario, OMERS Ventures is the VC arm of OMERS, the retirement plan for Ontario’s municipal employees. Founded in 2011, the company currently has approximately $1.6 billion in assets under management.
A few years ago, Killoran and Barrett met and collaborated to evaluate several construction engineering startups.
But early last year, during one of their regular meetings, a new idea – born of their mutual frustration – came up.
The couple wondered why they couldn’t build a successful software startup by designing and building one from scratch.
“We all knew the variables that contribute to success or failure – so we asked ourselves ‘why don’t we check them ourselves and put together a program that doesn’t guarantee success, but dramatically improves a company’s chances of surviving the early stages. and become a dominant force in the contech software industry?’” said Barrett.
The result? An Entrepreneur-in-Residence program that would serve as an incubator for founders to prepare them to launch their new software businesses.
Working together, OMERS and Turner decided they would select the candidates and over a period of three to six months they would use Turner “as a way to explore the opportunity landscape,” Barrett said.
“We would put them in Turner to go wherever they want and interview whoever they want, from our employees or our global network of clients, architects, engineers and subcontractors,” he added.
Barrett emphasizes that the program is not about building a software company that is “caught to Turner” or just solves its problems.
“We’re just a learning lab for the founders,” he told TechCrunch. “Ultimately, the goal over time is that we keep repeating this and make this program a foundry for successful startups that deliver superior technology solutions that delight customers, change our industry and drive innovation.”
For Killoran of OMERS, the opportunity to build a business with Turner seemed like the ideal way to address some of the major challenges facing start-ups in the construction engineering space.
In particular, Killoran sees “a huge opportunity” for technology to transform the construction industry by improving productivity, streamlining regulatory processes, collaborating on design and making payments more predictable.
She added: “But there is a big challenge in this space: customer adoption. It is an industry with a rich tradition where paper still plays an important role and technology adoption is relatively low. Couple that with the fact that the construction is complex.”
The premise behind the new program, Barrett said, is that founders are the most important factor in a startup’s success. And that founder, Killoran said, doesn’t necessarily have to have a background in construction. In fact, she sees a construction background as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’.
†We can help EIA candidates to keep abreast of the construction of the land under construction. There’s something to be said for coming into this with clean eyes,” she told TechCrunch. “Experience in technology startups is more important…The key criterion is an entrepreneurial spirit – someone who wants to dive into this space or who has a passion for automating workflows and making processes more efficient.”