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  • Thomas Grillo

Venturing Into The Construction Industry

Say “construction” to a venture capitalist and they’ll respond with “no, thanks.” This capital intensive industry is enough to send most venture investors jumping out of the potentially bottomless pit. That said, the industry is ripe for disruption. Trust me, I would know.

By trade, I’m a union construction laborer in New York City. I’ve built out utility systems, responded to emergency water and sewer breaks, and even worked in the subway tunnels. If there is anything that I learned from my field experience, it is how to adapt and overcome unforeseen circumstances. Since leaving construction, I’ve focused my efforts on using my industry knowledge to break into venture capital.

While construction companies might be sluggish, bogged down by rules and regulations, its people are agile. Inefficiencies drag out projects regularly, but it’s not due to a lack of effort. Technology has managed to disrupt even the most inefficient industries. Construction has found itself relatively unscathed by disruption thus far, but we’re finally seeing some movement in the multi-trillion dollar industry.

In March 2020, the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) partnered with Built Robotics, a San Francisco startup that pairs its technology with heavy construction equipment for automation purposes. The company retrofits its system with heavy machinery, allowing it to be self-piloted. The pitch to industry professionals is that it frees up operating engineers for more complex projects while the automated machine takes on more menial tasks. Think: the excavation of an unobstructed trench in the middle of the desert can net thousands of yards of dirt. Built Robotics' system would free up an operating engineer to drop pipe into the trench, a more complex and slow process as it requires constant communication with the laborers. This creates a more streamlined process and a more conducive work environment.  

I worked with the men and women of IUOE and LIUNA on a daily basis for over five years, and, to them, job security is of the utmost importance. But, with advancements in technology like Built Robotics, we can build in efficiencies and train members to do more complex work. I see a future where autonomous equipment and 3-D printing enable us to drastically increase project performance. It’s an exciting time for the construction industry, indeed.

-Thomas Grillo

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