Technology

Chicago Construction Tech Community Checks Out Latest Startups at BuiltWorlds Summit

By
Jeff Yoders
September 3, 2021
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Conference is one of the first industry live events to return to the city since start of pandemic

Oded Ran, CEO and co-founder of Clue Insights, presents at the BuiltWorlds Summit 2021 in Chicago.Photo by Jeff Yoders/ENR

Tech entrepreneurs pitched their startup products to a socially distanced ballroom audience, venture capitalists discussed what they look to invest in and familiar attendees said hello between sips of coffee during networking breaks Sept. 1, the first day of the 2021 BuiltWorlds Summit at Chicago’s Westin River North.

The 50-plus attendees and exhibitors maintained social distance inside the Westin Ballroom and wore masks indoors in accordance with local ordinances, but the first in-person BuiltWorlds event in Chicago since 2019 signaled a return to something approaching normalcy for Chicago’s construction technology community.

“There’s a familiarity to it,” said Matt Gray, co-chairman of Graycor Construction and a BuiltWorlds founder. “There was a great deal of pent-up energy demand and we found our guests were ready to observe all of the rules and get back to events like this.”

BuiltWorlds is a network of infrastructure, construction and technology professionals that shares trends and technology insights and uses events such as its summit to make connections. During the pandemic its events went online, but with Chicago reopening events earlier this year, they were one of the first to take the plunge and welcome guests and speakers back.

The first day of the conference, Demo Day, featured startups selected by BuiltWorlds’ venture program pitching their solutions to a team of judges from BuiltWorlds’ venture program member companies. Saint Gobain, Barton Malow, Nabholz, Syska Hennessy and Thornton Tomasetti all sent judges.

Clue Insights, a real-time productivity tracker designed for heavy construction work, won the competition. Co-founder and CEO Oded Ran ran a demo of Clue’s platform and explained that with manual reporting tracking construction productivity can be very hard.

“Too many hours are spent on reporting that isn’t a foreman or supervisor’s job and survey drones only provide for you what happened today,” he said.

Telematics to track individual pieces of equipment also can be expensive and are virtually irrelevant for equipment renters, he said. To solve this problem Clue uses a “game tape” interface that shows individual pieces of equipment throughout a workday and tracks load counts, refueling time and other metrics. The platform is sensor agnostic and works with the telematics and onboard technology of original equipment manufacturers such as John Deere and Caterpillar. Sensors send data 10 times a minute to Clue’s servers, and the Clue platform combines the data with job site information so that its machine learning engine can then generates the game tape. The startup is two years old and has received backing from Doosan and others.

“[Equipment operators] know what exactly the asset is doing,” said Ran. “It’s hauling, loading, refueling. But Clue also analyzes number of loads, productivity, fuel consumption and CO2 efficiency is, honestly, a growing concern and what a lot of contractors now have to quantify.”

Other presenters at BuiltWorlds included Document Crunch, an AI-based system that reviews, plans, specifications and other project data to identify problems with contracts and complicated risks; and MaterialsXchange, a stock-trader-style interface for buyers and sellers of lumber that CEO and Co-founder Michael Wisnefski says can be scaled up for other materials such as steel. MaterialsXchange charges transaction fees just like a stock trader.

Most attendees were glad to be back at a live networking event, despite the limitations imposed.

“It’s good to be back,” said Josh Kanner, founder and CEO of computer-vision-based AI firm Newmetrix (formerly Smartvid.io).