BuiltWorlds at 10 Part I: How AEC Tech Grew From Campfire Conversation to Strategic Imperative

BuiltWorlds 10 year anniversary

At our first home in December 2014, Charlie Catlett, John Tolva, Euro Beinat and Lynn Osmond present a panel sessions on how “Big Data” will impact the built environment.

Ten years ago this month, we officially launched BuiltWorlds with a blog post that laid out our vision of “building a community that will inspire and cultivate technology innovation in the industries that serve the ‘built environment.’” All it would take to be successful would be to get all the stakeholders from across the broadest possible continuum to come together “to tackle common problems and investigate new solutions.” Aggregating the insights of a vast network, we could develop research and insights that could be shared digitally across the ecosystem, fostering new business opportunities and benefitting the whole ecosystem.

It has been anything but a straight path, however, it is enormously gratifying to see that BuiltWorlds today is, in fact, a network of hundreds of companies, thousands of members, and hundreds of thousands of people around the world who share a deep and abiding passion for transformation in this industry. And it feels like we are just getting started.

“Lighting the Campfire” and “Gathering the Like Minded”

To help kick things off, we decided to invite an entrepreneur to our space each week, invite others to come and join the discussions, and then write about what we learned. The real estate publication Curbed dubbed us a “camp fire” for the built environment.  Our hallmark was to welome all stakeholders from across the full life cycle, all end markets, and all aspects of the built world’s value chain.  Stratusvue, Lifesize Cloud and PaletteApp, tackling a range of AEC-oriented problems, were among the first companies we covered.

Our stories quickly began to attract people from across the country and around the world and, as the numbers of interested people grew, so did the variety of perspectives on the industry’s challenges. We began to bucket different problems into topic areas, stakeholders into company types, and to map out the linkages as well as an extensive taxonomy for cataloguing solutions. In this way, we were able to identity the challenges people were focusing on, the solutions with the most traction, and the linkages between groups, forming the basis of our research and events going forward.

The Age of Disruption Dawns, Fueled by Sector-Focused Funds and AEC Unicorns

What we did at BuiltWorlds in our early years in terms of reaching millions of stakeholders across the global buildings and infrastructure value chain would clearly not have been possible for our small startup without the power of an increasingly robust social media landscape. Across Facebook, Youtube, Linked In, Twitter, and other media, we aggressively built our own network.

However, there were two other notable emerging stakeholder groups that also saw the potential in more closely connecting the broader industry across the value chain and also around the world. These groups were an emerging category of sector-focused investors and also sector-focused tech companies leveraging fresh capital to build multi-billion dollar business. For these groups, seeing the industry in terms of the broader, addressable market meant a much bigger opportunity, and by 2018, we were witnessing an era of billion-dollar technology acquisitions, billions of dollars of sector-focused venture capital, and an industry awakening to the need to become active participants in the discussion—or risk disruption.

Beyond Basics, the BuiltWorlds’ Global Giants Open Up and Extend Their Reach

By 2018, the BuiltWorlds conversation had grown, and we were visiting vibrant centers of innovation in places like Boston, New York, and San Francisco across the U.S. However, we were also beginning to see much more commitment to the ecosystem from firms around the world.

In the spring of 2018, we made contact with representatives from Obayashi, who had established a tech scouting beachhead in Silicon Valley. That same year, we connected with a representative from Kajima who had also been tapped to identify opportunities in the region.  Meantime, we made a trip to Paris where we visited Vinci’s newly opened Leonard facility and also had a tour of Bouygues innovation center. In Israel, we saw the arrival of ConTech, an initiative of the Israeli government that was associated with dozens of contech and prop tech startups there. As these nodes of activity emerged around the world, we began to see new pathways of global investing and partnership take shape across the broader buildings and infrastructure sectors.

The Industry Begins to Mobilize, Moving Processes into Structured Data Work Flow, Focusing on “Project Management Software”

In the fall of 2018, we held a conference in Los Angeles we called our Smart Jobsites Conference, gathering a group of stakeholders and launching our benchmarking program. But while some stakeholders were engaged in discussions of a broad range of solutions, almost all of the contractors in the room were singularly focused on what they viewed as core project management implementations and fundamentally unable to focus on much else.  Notably, although there may not have been much broad implementation at the time, we did begin to see more, larger companies add innovation-oriented responsibilities to the roles of individuals within their companies.

An Era of Constant Shocks, Accelerating Change, and an Emerging Digital Divide Presents the Sector with Clearer Risks

When 2020’s Covid shutdown hit, there was a moment when it seemed that the industry’s digital transformation might be derailed. Instead, the pace accelerated. Companies searched for technology to help them stay connected with employees, job sites, and other business partners. As the pandemic trailed off, inflation spikes, climate change actions, affordable housing, and rising interest rates fueled interest in ever more areas of emerging technology.

The industry paused again with the failure of Silicon Valley Bank, but it’s today’s arrival of ChatGTP and AI generally that has spurred a whole new set of worries. In the face of all of this change, some of the industry’s players seem clearly to have better strategies and capabilities for adapting, while others seem to be falling further behind and increasingly vulnerable to future waves.

So, 10 years on, the serious stakeholders are finally gathered and focused, and BuiltWorlds’ role has shifted from gathering people around the campfire to discuss what changes might be possible, to one of actively helping the vast and still-expanding universe of companies in the sector make the necessary moves to adapt to the changes underway.

More on what those changes will look like, in Part II.