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Spotlight on Startups: Bridgit app lifts construction sites into the cloud

App for mobile and web streamlines on-site reporting

(photo courtesy Bridgit)

Paper - remember that? It was the thing people used to need to read news articles, like this one.

Yet, even as our world becomes increasingly digital, that decades-old dream of a “paper-free office” is often buried under a mountain of printed memos, emails and reports.

Enter Bridgit – an app that’s focused on the construction industry, where contractors use a standard, pen-and-paper-based method to report construction defects or deficiencies.

“The typical process would be seeing the problem, writing notes about it by hand, capturing a picture with a digital camera, and later typing up those notes, uploading the photos and emailing out the excel and the photo documents,” said Mallorie Brodie, co-founder of Bridgit. (Read more about Bridgit)

Brodie says contractors can log more than 15,000 of these must-fixes on a large project. Having a deficiency list is a normal part of the construction process but there just hasn’t been a great way to manage the process until now.

“If the issues are communicated quickly, it can save a lot of time,” she said. “So we developed a very simple, user-friendly mobile and web software that allows crews on site to record the information as they’re doing a walk-through, or on the go, and automatically send that information out to subcontractors.

“It reduces five steps to a single step. It’s really streamlining the process.”

Bridgit has earned attention in The Globe & Mail, Financial Post, Construction Executive magazine and beyond. But, more important, industry players are already using it: PCL, McKay-Cocker Construction Ltd., Kaneff and Bockstael.

And the company only launched a year ago.

Such rapid success is the result the partnership between Brodie, a business grad and entrepreneur, and Bridgit’s co-founder, Lauren Hasegawa, a civil engineer with an interest in startups.

The two met as part of The Next 36, a selective program for undergraduate entrepreneurs, headed by U of T’s Ajay Agrawal, the Peter Munk Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Rotman School of Management.

After the women graduated from the University of Western Ontario , they moved on to hone their partnership and business concept at Rotman’s Creative Destruction Lab, a prestigious startup incubator based at U of T which accepts applications from entrepreneurs from schools both within and beyond the GTA.  (Read more about Creative Destruction Lab)

Brodie spoke with writer Brianna Goldberg about how she and Hasegawa translated on-site problems into smartphone solutions − and how U of T’s incubator, the Creative Destruction Lab, helped take Bridgit to the next level.

How did Bridgit come together?
Lauren and I got together and knew we wanted to launch something in the construction industry because of her experience working on site, but didn’t know where to begin. We started visiting construction sites across Western Ontario, interviewing many project stakeholders.

We found a number of communication challenges centred on the fact these people are on the go, constantly needing to keep track of different types of information, and doing it all by hand.

We focused on deficiency management, which ranges from logging a crack in the drywall to chipped paint to a major structural issue. Because people have to write it down by hand, there’s a constant delay, and on a large project like a hospital, lists can be 15—20,000 items long. That’s where Bridgit comes in.

photo of the two company foundersWhat makes you and your co-founder a good team?
I’ve been interested in startups for a long time. While I was in business school at Ivey, I took the entrepreneurship certificate, and ran a small student art gallery. Many students would assemble and try to brainstorm different business ideas, but when you’re all coming from the exact same background there’s very little chance you’re going to come up with innovative ideas.

Lauren hesitated to mention her construction background because there’s nothing ‘glam’ about it from a marketing perspective, but as soon as she brought it up I got so excited. Mostly I was eager for the opportunity to work with someone that really knew an industry inside and out, which I couldn’t have come to on my own at all.

Lauren and I are both problem solvers at heart. It was really motivating for us to go out on site and talk to people with real problems and work to solve something that was a true industry pain point.

How did Creative Destruction Lab at U of T help you develop Bridgit?
Creative Destruction Lab really is next level. There isn’t any other comparable program in Canada when it comes to quality. I feel so fortunate that professor Ajay Agrawal, and the mentors, the “G7” group, spend the time they do with us. Spending time with the G7 has allowed us to take our company to the next level.  (Read more about the G7)

What’s been the most valuable feedback from the G7 mentors?
The G7 has helped us set aggressive sales and product milestones for the company – they have helped us to see what we are truly capable of as a company.

What’s next for Bridgit?
For the next year we’re focusing on this first product. We’re really happy with where it is today but we’re constantly thinking of how we can make it better and how to continue to make our users love using the platform. We also have two more meetings with the G7 to continue to develop things within the Creative Destruction Lab.

After that, there are endless opportunities to think about with communication challenges on site. We believe the construction industry communication will continue to become more mobile-centric and we plan on being part of that change.

Brianna Goldberg is a writer for U of T News.

Spotlight on Startups profiles the many entrepreneurial efforts growing from the hundreds of companies spun out from research and connections sparking every day at the University of Toronto:

U of T hosts more than 50 enterprise-fostering courses, programs, labs, clubs, contests and speaker series across its faculties, departments and campuses — and then there are all the innovations developing in informal settings. U of T ranks No. 1 in North America for number of startups launched. And its roster of spin-off companies driving innovation in Toronto and around the world continues to grow.

Visit the University of Toronto entrepreneurship site to learn more about U of T's enterprise-fostering courses, labs, programs and more.