Venture West Panel Preview: The Modular Model

“The Modular Model: To Integrate or to Partner” panel at BuiltWorlds upcoming Venture West Conference (now less than 5 weeks away), will be a discussion you don’t want to miss.

Can the Tesla model work in construction, or was Kattera’s $2.5B downfall definitive proof that the building market is just too fragmented & cyclical for digitally empowered vertical integration?

Where are the best-positioned modular opportunities today?

These are the mission-critical questions this panel of tenured AEC professionals will address at Venture West, with opinions on the subject being incredibly idiosyncratic in the wake of Kattera's unforgettable implosion.

Prefabricated homes are far from a new concept (similar to EV automobiles), with roots that can be traced as far back as 1830 when London carpenter John Manning built his first Manning Colonial Cottage for his son who was off to Australia, which quickly became a commercial hit. A similar easy-assembly technique was applied to the Kit Houses that helped fuel the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th century. Sears even had a line of Catalogue Homes for a period in the early to the mid-20th century.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the American Institute of Architects’ “greatest American architect of all time,” put American building design on the global map, having designed over 1,000 buildings across the globe. Wright’s architectural genius inspired a nature focus toward scalable manufactured housing, taking many of his prefab/modular tactics from the automobile industry -- not dissimilar to the modular market today.

The Tesla model was tried in the construction space with seemingly all bets put on Kattera’s smart modular design, which ended in a dismal $2.5 billion collapse in the wake of the demand-crushing pandemic lockdowns. Whether this was bad timing, mismanagement, overcapitalization, overhiring, or an underestimation of the cyclicality of construction (likely some combination of these), it sparked an entrepreneurial frenzy for modular/prefabricated building, with a cascade of modular innovations succeeding this fully vertically integrated modular disaster.

This panel will dissect the nuances of the manufactured construction space, with the discussion diving into the pitfalls of Katerra, and lessons to be learned.  The disparate opinions among the panelists will lead to a spirited Socratic discussion about how much of the AEC value chain should be integrated, and how much of it should be driven by vertical partnerships among the siloed stakeholders.

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Meet the Panel

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Ray Levitt - Operating Partner at Blackhorn Ventures

Joined Blackhorn Ventures as an Operating Partner in 2017. Blackhorn Ventures, LLC, invests in Seed, A, and B Rounds of startups that develop defensible breakthrough technologies, building on emerging IT capabilities, to dramatically enhance resource efficiency in the built environment, transportation/logistics, and energy sectors of the real economy.

Lead partner for Blackhorn's Built Environment sector investments in startups that deliver solutions for all stages of the construction process: planning, design, construction, and facility management.

Aaron Toppston

Aaron Toppston - Managing Partner at GS Futures

Aaron Toppston is the Managing Partner of GS Futures, an early stage real estate and construction technology venture investor.

Aaron is an established leader with over 15 years of experience in the construction and financial services industries, including recent work with Navitas. Previously, Aaron was a managing director at the Walsh Group, an ENR Top 15 contractor, where he led both P3 infrastructure development and analytics. Aaron started his career at Aon, serving a variety of strategy and operating roles.


Bob Mazer - Co-Founder & President of Flexnode

Robert Mazer is the Co-Founder and President of Flexnode, a digital infrastructure company working to deliver the next generation of distributed, high-performance data center solutions for ‘go-anywhere’ compute capacity. At Flexnode, Robert is collaborating with industry leading colleagues and best-in-class strategic partners to develop and operate modular, high-performance micro data centers to meet rapidly growing global data demand at the network core and edge.

Victoria Smith

Victoria Smith - Innovation Program Manager at STO Building Group

Victoria Smith joins STOBG with a fresh perspective on the construction industry. She has an undergraduate degree in behavioral neuroscience and graduate degrees in public health and organizational leadership and management. Victoria launched her career in healthcare, first in traditional healthcare R&D, and then later focused on healthcare software and technology, shepherding healthcare through its digital transformation, including onboarding one of the nation’s largest hospitals onto its first electronic medical record system. Victoria was also a co-founder and CEO of a digital health startup company focused on early forms of telehealth with smartphones. Victoria is excited to join STOBG and take on the role of preparing our people for the future of construction.