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Construction tech start-up takes Google stage

Don Wall
Construction tech start-up takes Google stage
Lauren Hasegawa, left, and Mallorie Brodie continue to pass new milestones with their tech startup firm Bridgit and its construction app Closeout. -

At some point, says Mallorie Brodie, who’s one half of the startup team behind a construction-deficiencies app called Closeout, people will stop asking her about the rarity of two young females venturing into the male-dominated fields of technology and construction.

But that day, it seems, has not yet arrived.

It is not lost on prospects and potential investors that Brodie and her partner, Lauren Hasegawa, are both female, both only 24 years old and both fresh out of school, as 2013 graduates of Western University — Brodie with a commerce degree, Hasegawa with a B.Eng.

And then there is their flare for marketing. In their latest breakthrough, their firm, the Waterloo, Ont.-based company Bridgit, has been announced as the only Canadian startup asked to pitch to potential investors at the prestigious Google Demo Day: Women’s Edition in San Francisco on Dec. 9.

Brodie will be one of only 11 women from around the world at the Silicon Valley session, picked from a pool of more than 450 applicants from 40 countries. She will have four minutes to pitch Closeout to a room of influential investors and tech leaders. The event will be streamed live.

"I think this one is a little bit nerve-wracking," said Brodie recently. "We are the only Canadian company that is presenting at it so I definitely want to make my home country proud. Besides that, we are pretty practised up and used to doing this sort of thing. But this one is on a much greater scale, so I am a little bit nervous, so I am going to practise hard and make sure I am ready to go come pitch day."

The past year has been one of growth, research and continuing product refinement for Bridgit, which was founded in 2013 when Brodie and Hasegawa were still in school. Both had family members in the construction industry. Hasegawa had spent lots of time on construction sites where she noticed that there were knowledge gaps and time lost when contractors found project deficiencies and had to alert the relevant tradespeople and subcontractors.

The seed for the invention of Closeout, which enables a supervisor to record information on deficiencies including photos taken on a smartphone and communicate instructions in real time, was planted. Closeout was launched in March of 2014.

In the product development stage, Brodie and Hasegawa interviewed some 500 people in the construction industry and visited numerous construction sites conducting research. Startup capital came as part of a mentorship program called The Next 36. Waterloo provided a nurturing environment for a startup, Brodie says. From the original two, Bridgit now has 10 employees.

Research has shown that 2015 has been the best year in many for construction-tech financing, reports the U.S.-based site CB Insights. The biggest deal in the first nine months of 2015 was the US$76 million invested in IronPlanet of Pleasanton, Calif., which hosts an online marketplace for used heavy-construction equipment. As of late September, US$101 million was reported to have been invested in construction-tech startups so far this year by venture capital investors.

Brodie said she would surely welcome some of that support, but in the meantime Bridgit will continue to work away refining Closeout based on continuing research and adaptations created by in-house programmers.

"I feel like it is a possibility," said Brodie of the chance of securing a major investor or even being bought out, "but we are just interested in building our product. We are very passionate about the construction industry, and we think that we will be in business for the long haul…We do not see any end to what we are working on."

Brodie has already been down to the Bay area three times, she said, including this past spring where she attended meetings set up by the C100 group that supports Canadian tech startups.

Nowadays, Brodie is ready with an answer to anyone who comments on her age and gender.

"On the macro level, people ask, what are these two doing in this business?" said Brodie. "But if you were to remove those factors from the equation, look at our backgrounds: both of us have family in construction, Lauren is in civil engineering, I had a tech startup while going through university, so we are both from entrepreneurial families. This makes perfect sense."

Bridgit co-founder talks leadership-sidebar

Construction-tech startup partners Mallorie Brodie and Lauren Hasegawa, the founders of Bridgit, are only 24 but already Brodie is ready to assume a leadership role among women in her niche.

Brodie talked about her upcoming appearance at Google Demo Day: Women’s Edition in San Francisco on Dec. 9.

"There are a lot of females that would consider being entrepreneurs but they don’t because they see that it is extra male dominated in the tech world," Brodie said.

"It is positive to showcase women that have gone out and started their own businesses, so that those who are aspiring entrepreneurs that maybe question it for that reason have a group of people that they can look up to and say, hey, they did it, why not me?"

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