It’s been a full year since BuiltWorlds 2022 Global Innovators Top List was released, and in anticipation of BuiltWorlds 2023 Global Innovators Top 50 (which will be released on December 14th), we want to highlight the most impactful corporate leaders among the 7 categories we identified in last year’s list.
BuiltWorlds recognition of a Global Innovator is a tribute to the industry-advancing role that leading global AECO organizations play in preparing the built environment for the future. The technology that these world-building giants are embracing is at the heart of the digital takeoff this sector has been experiencing in recent years.
The startup ecosystem in the built environment is brimming with opportunities for investors, entrepreneurs, and adopters as a direct result of the rise of strategic funds in this space. New Corporate Venture Capital initiatives (CVC), accelerator programs, or incubators continue to emerge from among the top engineering, construction, and real estate firms. BuiltWorlds’ Global Innovators Top list illustrates 50 of the most influential players driving the built world into the future.
Global Design & Engineering Innovator of The Year
WSP launched Emerge in 2022 and in its inaugural year announced growth-stage 3 cohorts of this built world accelerator focused on Climate Resilience, & Sustainability; Water; and Earth & Environment (2 startups per cohort for a total of 6). WSP's Emerge program has since launched a 4th cohort focused on Legal Services & Compliance Technology.
Emerge is WSP's strategic alliance program that seeks early-stage companies with novel solutions as strategic partners. This program invests time and resources into partners without taking any equity. Cohort partners get access to in-house subject matter experts, an opportunity to pilot their products/technologies with WSP during the evaluation phase, and access to WSP's client base.
Global Building Materials Innovator of The Year
CRH officially announced the launch of CRH Ventures' $250M investment fund shortly after BuiltWorlds 2022 Global Innovators list was released and has since invested in three startups focused on decarbonizing the built world. This past summer the CRH Ventures team also launched its first accelerator program focused on innovative water systems.
The program takes no equity but provides these founders with a platform to pilot their solutions for the opportunity to prove & improve their product, attain a global customer (CRH), and potentially obtain a venture investment.
I expect to see more from this global leader in building materials as it relates to its US subsidiary Oldcastle Infrastructure. Infrastructure Tech is taking a controlling interest in the early-stage built world and CRH is positioned nicely to embrace these innovations.
Global Commercial Construction Innovator of The Year
VINCI external accelerator program, Leonard, has been supporting digitization in the built environment for more than 6 years, with mission-critical resources to support startups in this niche.
In the past 12 months, Leonard worked closely with 19 startups across its Seed & Catalyst Programs (early-stage & growth-stage support, respectively), and 10 teams of internal innovators in the Intrapreneurs Program. Leonard has also launched its 6-month AI Program to elevate the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the AEC sector.
Global Infrastructure & Energy Innovator of The Year
Schneider Electric’s venture arm, SE Ventures, launched a $520M Euro fund in mid-November 2022 (one week after the 2022 Global Innovators list was released), bringing its total AUM to north of $1B.
SE Ventures also led the corporate investing charge in the built world, averaging one investment a month for the past 12 months (12 deals). SE Ventures remains flushed with industry-advancing capital and is positioned to continue being a corporate leader in the development of new built world technologies.
Global Equipment & Machinery Innovator of The Year
ABB’s startup involvement was extensive in 2023 with 5 direct venture investments into built-world innovations via ABB Technology Ventures. Investments were made primarily in infrastructure tech solutions addressing things like grid management, mobility, and clean energy generation.
ABB Accelerating Circularity Startup Challenge 2023 is the company's environmental-focused accelerator program, which is choosing its finalist after the conclusion of its “10-day Challenge” on November 16th. ABB’s appetite for cutting-edge innovations will allow this corporation to remain at the forefront of industrial digitization.
Global Commercial Real Estate Innovator of The Year
Despite the operationally crushing office market glut, JLL remains committed to advancing the startup ecosystem in the built world. The company supported 15 Climate Tech startups in its inaugural JLL Foundation (non-profit within JLL), doing more than its part in the built world’s long journey to net-zero emissions.
JLL Spark continues to invest despite its own public valuation getting downsized by 50%, funding 5 built-world startups with a natural outsized focus on Building Tech. JLL might not be in the best operational position today as a result of this systemic shift in real estate resources away from office assets, but its dedication to being a part of the newest technologies positions this struggling commercial real estate giant better for the future.
Global Built World Technology Innovator of The Year
Among the publicly traded AEC-tech leaders, Bentley Systems has been the most active in the startup ecosystem over the past 12 months with 4 strategic acquisitions & 5 venture investments.
Bentley’s (BSY) proactive approach in 2023’s uncertain economic environment has rewarded its shareholders with an over 38% return in the past 52 weeks. A stark contrast to its competitors like Procore (PCOR), Autodesk (ADSK), and Trimble (TRMB) whose shares are underperforming BSY by 22.5%, 32%, & 61%, respectively (even outpacing the S&P 500 by over 20%). I expect Bentley Systems to be a big player in the world of AEC-tech as the $1.1T of promised US infrastructure investments finally begins to be deployed.