A young Halifax company called Harbr is bringing the promise of Big Data to one of Canada’s biggest and fastest-growing industries—construction.
Harbr has developed a mobile app that allows big construction companies and their project managers to analyze data on the sub-contractors they’ve hired for specific projects. That helps big companies to improve efficiency in the short term, and to understand how to improve their overall performance in the longer term.
“On most construction sites, 90 per cent of work force is made up of subcontractors and it’s the subcontractors’ performance that determines the general contractor’s performance,” said Harbr CEO Dave Kim. “But there’s no data on the subcontractors.” The only way until now that general contractors can assess sub-contractors is on their price.
Harbr, which has been going for about six months, is targeting one of Canada’s hottest industries. According to Statistics Canada, construction accounted for six per cent of the country’s GDP and 7.1 per cent of its workforce in 2010, and the industry grew at twice the rate of the overall economy in the first decade of the century.
Kim, who will present the product tonight at DemoCamp Halifax, is personally a bit new to the construction industry. He’s a tech guy, best known as one of the cofounders of GoInstant, the startup that sold out to Salesforce.com for a reported $70-million-plus in 2012. A while back he linked up with friends Jeff and Ashley Kielbratowski, who were veterans of the construction industry, and CTO Mike Ouellette, to explore ways to apply to tech to the building trades. Eventually, they found the market to focus on was data on sub-contractors.
The product, which requires no integration with a company’s back office, gives the site managers a mobile dashboard that tracks all the work carried out by subcontractors. It captures data in such areas as work-force loading, time to completion and types of delay. The app can be downloaded free, and Harbr makes money by charging for analysis of the data.
The company, which now has six staff and a couple of part-timers, has been financed so far through the resources of the founders. Kim is now working on a seed round with a target of about $1.2 million, which he hopes to close by the end of the year.
Working out of the Volta startup house, Harbr is now working with six major construction companies, either based in Atlantic Canada or the East Coast arms of multinational companies. In the near future, the company will focus on gaining customers in the red-hot Ontario market, and working with existing clients to spread across the country. After that, the team is eyes key markets in the U.S., like Florida, New York or California.
As the company gains more customers, it will develop a unique data bank on the performance of various facets of the construction industry.
“This very much is a data play for us,” said Kim, a native of Australia who has lived in both Cape Breton and Halifax. “The value of that data is quite immense. Understanding such a big industry as construction … is quite huge and remarkable. We think that the value there is endless.”