It started, as many good ideas do, with a chance encounter.
Mallorie Brodie, then a business student at Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ont. and Lauren Lake, a civil engineering student at the school, were enrolled in a Next 36 young-entrepreneurship program in Toronto in 2013 and, as fate would have it, met and began talking about their past.
Turns out they had a lot in common — more so than just attending the same school.
“We found that our families had both come from the construction industry,” explained Brodie. “So, that was the starting point for us.”
Brodie’s family had worked in the demolition sector. Lake’s family was in concrete corrosion mitigation.
“Lauren, being a civil engineer, had also worked during the summers at her uncle’s company out of Winnipeg and she’d realized, from experience working on sites, that despite having a smartphone in her pocket everything was being done for the most part with pen and paper,” said Brodie.
The two women soon put their heads together and came up with an idea to develop software to streamline the construction-project management process and help contractors keep their projects organized.
Feedback from start-up experts they consulted wasn’t good, though, as they figured construction workers wouldn’t adopt that kind of technology.
But the women didn’t give up.
The main disadvantage was that a lot of the software being used was web-based
— Mallorie Brodie
“We just intuitively felt like that wasn’t correct and wanted to go out and do some further research and prove that for ourselves,” said Brodie.
“So, we did research with about 500 different people in the construction industry, ranging from architects and engineers to project supervisors and different sizes of contractors, and found there actually was a lot of interest in using the technology on site.
“The main disadvantage was that a lot of the software being used was web-based, so it wasn’t mobile and it made it very difficult to actually utilize on the jobsite when you’re walking around all day.”
They went with their instincts, did their research, and in March 2014 launched their company, named Bridgit, along with a new product called Bridgit Field, a cloud-based tool to help general contractors streamline task and inspection management workflows, simplify on-site communications and manage “punch lists” which are lists of deficient work at a given construction site as it nears completion.
Bridgit Field allows an engineer in an office as well as a contractor on a worksite to look at plans and blueprints on their computers or smartphones, enabling better communication and changes to be made to blueprints in real-time.
Today, Bridgit is a rising-star software company in the competitive tech community of Kitchener-Waterloo where the firm is headquartered.
Recently, the company announced that it had raised $7.75 million in investor financing capital to fund more growth from a number of notable venture capitalists led by BDC, or the Business Development Bank of Canada. Other investors include Vanedge Capital of Vancouver, Salesforce Ventures of San Francisco, Calif., Sands Capital Ventures in Washington, D.C., and StandUp Capital in Toronto.
The company has also launched a new venture called Bridgit Bench, enterprise software that is designed to eliminate the headaches — and spreadsheets — of managing construction workforce planning. It enables general contractors as well as operations vice-presidents in an office to visualize the big picture of a site with real-time dashboards and see who is on a project so that they can plan, allocate resources and forecast what their workforce needs to look like down the road.
Brodie said the construction industry is now more accepting of technology and ready to implement simple solutions.
“No one in construction and no one in any industry wants to go through long implementation processes that are complicated and take forever to get up and running. But if you have something where they see immediate value within the first week they’re using the new platform they get excited.”
Brodie, who is CEO of the company, says industry response to the products has been good.
“When we set up new customers that have been typically working off spreadsheets and they see the dashboard for the first time they say, ‘Well, that’s obvious. Why is no one else doing it?’ It’s been really nice to get that feedback.”
Brodie said the investor capital will be used to promote the company’s products and sales in the U.S., as well as launch research and development.
“The product is already in market but it’s really about making sure that the industry knows that we have this product and continuing to build out new features to make the product more robust, depending on what the customer requests are, and to continue the product growth into Canada and the U.S.”
Brodie said the name Bridgit was chosen for the company because the founders wanted to put a human element to the title of the firm so it wasn’t intimidating or complicated.
The name stuck out because the word ‘bridge’ was in it to signal a flow of communications and it was a person’s name as well.
“Our customers on-site love it because they say, ‘Tell Bridgit to do that,’ and they like having fun with the name,” said Brodie.
The company has about 50 staff at its headquarters in Kitchener and about 140 customers, mainly general contractors and developers across North America (some of which are top contractors in Canada and the U.S.) who are using the products on thousands of projects at given time.
Brodie said she can’t share specific numbers but the Bridgit Field product has surpassed expectations.
Quite a leap from the company’s early days just five years ago.
“Lauren and I talk about this a lot and in the early years of a business you’re only thinking one week ahead or one month ahead and you’re in survival mode,” said Brodie.
“We’re really excited that we’ve created a strong foundation and can be thinking, ‘Where do we want to be five years from now?’ ”
“We have the confidence that we can keep developing new and simple solutions for the industry,” said Brodie. “It’s very exciting that we’ve been able to get to this place.”