Startups

By Acquiring Construction Startups, Big Tech Aims To Help Build More Than Software

Construction technology is a growing sector, as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

The construction industry is known to suffer from great inefficiencies and low productivity gains. Why that’s the case isn’t hard to determine. Construction projects involve so many players from general contractors to subcontractors, as well as a slew of paper documents including time cards and site plans. In an attempt to modernize the industry, more and more startups are being created to tackle its problems. And because these startups seem to be developing cool technologies faster than a lot of the big players, the space has seen some impressive exits over the years.

Most acquisitions of construction tech startups today are being conducted by larger companies who realize that buying innovation is “much easier” than building it, Travis Connors, a partner at Borealis Ventures, told Crunchbase News. The investing group has seen four portfolio exits in the construction tech space so far.

These big companies “are trying to acquire smaller players with massive distribution so they can hold on to customers,” Connors told Crunchbase News. “The startups they’re buying have already had some established presence in the construction space.”

The wake-up call for the industry was in the success of Procore Technologies, which has created a cloud-based construction management software application. The startup reached unicorn status in December 2016 after raising another $50 million, bringing its total venture raised to $229 million.

“The legacy construction tech providers were asking themselves, ‘How did we let Procore happen?’” Connors said.

A number of private equity and venture capital firms are getting in the game now, too.

Last August, Battery Ventures acquired a majority stake in Manchester, New Hampshire-based software firm Newforma, which makes project information management software to help companies complete complex architectural, engineering, and construction projects more efficiently and cost effectively.

But for the most part, acquisitions are strategic, according to Connors. Here we’ll highlight some of the industry’s more notable and recent acquisitions, sorted by acquirer, that illustrate a trend of growing demand for construction technology startups.

Oracle

The Redwood Shores-based tech giant has made a few acquisitions in the construction tech space over time. In December 2017, it paid $1.2 billion in cash for Melbourne-based construction collaboration software maker Aconex. Founded in 2000, Aconex said it had been used to manage more than $1 trillion in construction projects. And in April 2016, Oracle also bought Textura for $663 million in a move designed to build up its construction IT business.

At that time, Mike Sicilia, SVP and GM of Oracle’s engineering and construction global business unit, said in a statement: “The increasingly global engineering and construction industry requires digital modernization in a way that automates manual processes and embraces the power of cloud computing to easily connect the construction job site, reduce cost overruns, and improve productivity.”

Trimble

Another tech giant that has been active in this space is Sunnyvale-based Trimble. Just last month, the publicly-traded software company said it would acquire Viewpoint from investment firm Bain Capital for $1.2 billion.

The Viewpoint business will become part of Trimble’s buildings and infrastructure segment and will complement the company’s recent acquisition of e-Builder, a software startup that managed more than $300 billion worth of construction projects, the company said.

In February, Trimble announced plans to pay $500 million in cash for e-Builder. In a statement, Trimble said e-Builder would “extend Trimble’s ability to accelerate industry transformation by providing an integrated project delivery solution for owners, program managers and contractors across the design, construct and operate lifecycle.”

WeWork

Although co-working pioneer WeWork is considered a startup itself, it’s not one focused on the construction industry per se. But as a customer of FieldLens—which developed a mobile communication system for the construction industry—WeWork saw firsthand the value of FieldLen’s technology. As a result, it ended up acquiring the startup last June. According to Crunchbase, New York-based FieldLens, founded by Doug Chambers, formerly of Tishman Construction, and Matt Sena, a Goldman Sachs analyst, had raised about $12.6 million from investors. Its backers include OpenView, SoftBank, and Primary Venture Partners.

At the time of the acquisition, FieldLens’ CEO Doug Chambers wrote in a blog: “Construction, and the built environment as a whole, is a critical component to our economy and overall well-being. It is time for our industry to rise up and lead all of us forward, and together with WeWork we are going to do exactly that.”

Battery Ventures

As mentioned above, Battery Ventures acquired a majority stake in software firm Newforma for an undisclosed amount last August. Newforma CEO Brock Philp was brought in after the transaction to take over as head of the company.

With nearly 1,200 customers and 160 employees, Newforma’s software is aimed at architects, engineers, builders, and building owners. The company has offices in Munich, Germany, Sydney, Australia, and London. It is headquartered in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“There’s a flood of communication on any given project,” Philp said. “What we try to do is be the project information management solution at the center of all things project related.”

The acquisition was made by the private equity arm of Battery Ventures, according to Philp.

In a statement at the time of the buy, Battery Ventures’ General Partner Michael Brown said, “We are excited to announce our investment in Newforma, which has built an extremely strong business focused on the AECO (architects, engineering, construction, and owner) market, and we believe the business can scale even further in the coming years.”

Rich D’Amore, the general partner of North Bridge Venture Partners & Growth Equity, said his firm was an early investor in Newforma.

“The company was just hitting its stride when 2008 happened, and it was devastating for the economy obviously,” he told Crunchbase News. “It was especially devastating for the construction industry. The fact that Newforma survived and actually thrived during that time was a real credit to the management team.”

North Bridge Venture Partners has been active in the space for more than a decade. The firm was also an original investor in Revit, which was acquired by 3D design software giant Autodesk in 2002.

As construction startups grow more sophisticated, it’s inevitable that more acquisitions in this space will take place. It’s just a matter of who will recognize the value add such startups bring to their overall business.

iStockPhoto / Skarie20