Interview: Gonzalo Galindo
16 March 2021
The head of Cemex Ventures says new innovation in construction took its time to arrive, but a promising future awaits
In 2017, Cemex Ventures – the corporate venture capital arm of Mexican multinational building materials company Cemex – ran the first Construction Startup competition with the aim of investing in innovative startups accelerating the construction revolution.
Since 2019, a Top 50 Contech Startups list has also been published to accompany this. Gonzalo Galindo, head of Cemex Ventures, talked to Construction Europe about the success of the startup competition, industry trends, and why technology is the future of construction.
Can you tell us about the history of the Construction Startup Competition?
At Cemex Ventures we identified the areas of opportunity in the construction industry where innovation is needed. The Construction Startup Competition is our annual call where we invite all construction entrepreneurs who offer innovative solutions for the industry´s biggest challenges to participate.
Participating startups begin our Startup Journey. After an evaluation of their business and situation, they have the opportunity to gain personalised mentorship from our team of experts, have access to capital investment, commercialise, and expand their markets by testing and piloting their solutions, as well as leverage Cemex´s global network. The incredible turnout of the first four editions of this challenge have made it the biggest and most important competition for startups in the construction industry.
Have you seen an increase in the numbers of companies entering?
Since our first edition back in 2017 we have seen a tremendous increase in participation. In 2020 we had a 30% increase in comparison to 2019, with over 1,500 entrepreneurs submitting their applications since 2017. More so, we have seen more countries being represented in the competition and the quality of the projects developed by the startups we evaluate has also increased significantly.
Where do you think construction is on the new technology journey?
We´ve come a long way from developing and identifying new innovative solutions for the construction industry in the past years, but there is still a long road ahead. Right now, we are paying close attention to new construction methods, sustainable solutions and optimisation in the supply chain management. For example, in 2020 we followed up on our investments in GoFor Industries, a provider of last mile logistics solutions.
Our other follow-up investment was StructionSite, a software that uses cameras to capture images and video of construction jobsites, which can be stitched together for remote project tours as well as for tracking construction progress and quality control. Needless to say, a solution that allowed for remote work in the construction site came in very handy during 2020 and will continue to gain even more relevance in 2021.
Likewise, to reach Cemex´s goals of offering net-zero concrete by 2050 and responding to the global call of reducing the negative impact the industry has on the environment, we are also looking closely into startups that offer sustainable solutions. We´ve partnered with startups and new business models such as Arqlite, Carbon Clean and Carbon Upcycling Technologies who are working on giving plastic a second life by creating light concrete from it, improving CO2 capture technology, and developing a low carbon footprint concrete that respectively captures CO2 residues from industrial by-products.
I think the roadmap is set in terms of the technology journey we must follow, with new solutions seeing their fit within the already identified areas. The next big step would be to see a wider adoption of these technologies in the industry in order to truly foster a construction revolution, which is our aim at CEMEX Ventures.
Talking about the 2020 Top 50 Contech Startups list – what trends emerge from it?
The Top 50 ConTech Startups list of 2020 allows us to see hundreds of revolutionary entrepreneurs that are aware of the challenges we are facing today in the industry and want to propel innovation in the sector by taking matters into their hands and betting on their solutions. If anything, this shows that, although innovation in construction took its time to say, “Hello, I am here”, a promising future awaits for the industry.
On 2020´s list we added a new category: safety and sustainability. Due to the global pandemic, many companies are investing in security solutions, and new solutions that previously occupied the bottom positions emerge from the shadows and became the lead actors. The safety objective will become a good bet during 2021, as well as all sustainability efforts.
Nonetheless, the other three categories are equally as important and remained in our list for the second year in a row: supply chain management, productivity of the construction project, and new materials and construction methods.
Likewise, the Contech investment ecosystem has blossomed in the past years incredibly, with 2020 being a record year with more than US$1.3 billion of investment in construction startups. We have been in the game since 2017 and less than ten other corporate venture capitals were playing alongside with us. Last year, over 30 corporate investors emerged and are now betting on Contech startups as well. Getting more companies involved allows for the growth and commercialisation of the startups solving the industry´s challenges, making them even more promising for the future.
Gonzalo Galindo says, “As part of our efforts to promote innovation in the industry, we have worked closely with many of the startups that have participated in the competition, regardless of if they were declared winners or not; from testing their solutions, to helping them improve their processes, or connecting them with our network of clients. We believe these startups can make a positive difference in the industry and by helping them reach their full potential, either with us or through us, we promote collaboration in the industry and continue to foster innovation.
“Likewise, other startups that participated in previous editions of Construction Startup Competition have become part of our investment portfolio. Amongst other things, we have helped them grow their businesses and even explore new markets.”
Notable previous entries to the competition include:
Modulous (2020 winner from United Kingdom): Generative design software and standardised kit of parts to design and deliver healthy, sustainable, and affordable homes through a distributed network of local assembly partners.
Soil Connect (2020 participant from US): Digital marketplace that connects construction workers who need to dispose of dirt and aggregates from demolition projects with those who need it for new projects.
Arqlite (2019 winner from Argentina): Artificial gravel produced entirely using recycled plastics, making it three times lighter and ten times more insulating than conventional gravel.
Ipsum (2017 winner from Chile): A collaborative platform for managing engineering and construction projects based on BIM technologies.
Prysmex (2017 winner from Mexico): Offers a solution capable of detecting and helping to prevent workplace accidents through the Internet of Things and real-time data collection.