The company now known as Bridgit Inc. began with what founders Mallorie Brodie and Lauren Lake call “crane hunting” – scouring London, Ont., for construction sites, looking for problems to solve. They found a few. And they’ve raised another $6.2-million to keep solving them.
Bridgit focuses on construction-project management, helping a client base made largely of general contractors keep projects organized with mobile devices; the company says its software is used in as many as 10,000 projects at a given time. It initially began as a tool to help general contractors manage “punch lists” – lists of deficient work at a given site as it nears completion – but in 2018 expanded to earlier-stage inspections to help catch problems more pro-actively.
The fundraising round is being led by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) Women in Technology Venture Fund with participation from Salesforce Ventures, Sands Capital Ventures and Vanedge Capital Partners. The company is also in the process of a debt-financing deal with CIBC Innovation Banking that will bring its total new capital to $7.75-million. Bolstered by this new financing, chief executive Ms. Brodie and chief operating officer Ms. Lake plan to deepen their research-and-development efforts and expand further into their biggest market: the United States.
Started by two women, with a 50-per-cent female team and full pay equity in an otherwise male-dominated tech industry, Bridgit has become a rising-star software company in the competitive Ontario tech community of Kitchener-Waterloo. The founders did this despite neither of them being from the Waterloo region nor coming from a software background. Both studied at the University of Western Ontario in London – Ms. Brodie in business and Ms. Lake in civil engineering – and, in fact, had not known each other until both enrolled in the Next 36 young-entrepreneur program in Toronto in early 2013.
Paired together to pitch a business idea, the co-founders discovered a shared heritage in construction – Ms. Brodie’s family in demolition, Ms. Lake’s family in concrete corrosion mitigation. They hatched an idea to streamline part of the project-management process, but the startup experts they first consulted couldn’t picture construction workers adopting that kind of technology.
But the pair still wanted to validate the business idea. They returned to London and began “crane hunting” in Ms. Brodie’s mother’s convertible Chrysler Sebring. They soon discovered that workers on a job site were more enthusiastic about making their jobs easier than a room full of startup experts had been.
“Hearing people’s pain points, getting them to prioritize for us what they want first – that’s how we narrowed what we ended up building for our first product,” Ms. Lake says. “We continued that for six months before ever actually writing any code. … That’s just led to us being able to find these new ideas and execute them and build products that work for the end user. We’re approaching it from their point of view versus just from a technical point of view.”
Enthralled by the Waterloo Region’s startup scene, the pair moved there in late 2013. Within a few years, they spent time with University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab and raised $2.2-million in seed financing, led by Chicago’s Hyde Park Venture Partners with participation from Vanedge. They also made fans at BDC, which has been an investor since Bridgit’s preseed days.
BDC managing director Michelle Scarborough has followed the company for years, watching what she calls a “huge revolution” in Ms. Brodie’s and Ms. Lake’s leadership. “They’re passionate about what they do, but also realistic about where they need to spend their time, bringing in team members to take the load off,” Ms. Scarborough said. The venture capitalist pointed out that Bridgit’s ability to work closely with clients has been critical to its product development, giving the market exactly what it needs. “They know exactly what they need to focus on – exactly what their market is.”
Bridgit’s co-founders have big plans for the next two years, aiming to double their present staff of 50 and launch a “major” new enterprise-scale product. While giant software companies with huge cash piles such as Oracle Corp. and AutoDesk Inc. have been expanding their construction offerings, including through acquisitions, Ms. Brodie says she believes Bridgit’s size will keep it nimble.
“When you’re looking at an industry for the first time, you can look at it with a completely new perspective than people who have maybe been working in that industry for 20 years,” Ms. Brodie says.
The Globe and Mail, March 17, 2019