A win for student entrepreneurs at Virginia Tech challenge

Tommaso Armstrong, Jan Schroeder, Sam McDonnell, Hartley Pike. Photo by Monique Potts

Tommaso Armstrong, Jan Schroeder, Sam McDonnell, Hartley Pike. Photo by Monique Potts

In summary: 
  • Construction Cloud, a visual documentation tool for building sites, is the business of four UTS students and graduates
  • The group have won $10,000 for best intangible product at the prestigious Virginia Tech entrepreneurship challenge

A team comprised of four UTS students and graduates have won best intangible product in the prestigious Virginia Tech KnowledgeWorks Global Student Entrepreneurship challenge.

The team pitched their business Construction Cloud to a panel of experts on Thursday, August 18.

Construction Cloud is a visual documentation tool for building sites. The idea for the business came about when engineer Hartley Pike saw the resources and time wasted from ad-hoc approaches to documenting progress on construction sites.

He joined forces with technical engineer Jan Schroeder and designer Sam McDonnell to found the business in 2015 and together they won the UTS 3P Business Plan competition. From there they were selected as finalists in the University Startup World Cup in Denmark.

These wins helped them to get Construction Cloud off the ground, says Pike. Early this year they secured a Minimal Viable Product grant from the NSW Department of Industry, which allowed them to develop the first iteration of the system.

They then pitched Construction Cloud to the project management team at NorthConnex, the longest road tunnel project in Australia’s history. When the team asked whether the tool might be useful for the project, NorthConnex’s response to the young entrepreneurs was "When can you have it ready?"

The team are now refining the system and making improvements. They were also able to bring tech whiz Tommaso Armstrong on board. NorthConnex is currently rolling out the system with 150 staff using it. A Wi-Fi connection installed in the tunnel means Construction Cloud will be able to create a live feed from up to 90 metres below ground.

Before setting off for Virginia, the team were hopeful that the fact they have a paying customer would help their chances of securing an award. “It proves that our product solves a real-world problem,” says Schroeder.

On arriving in Virginia they were placed with a large local construction company who helped them refine their pitch and tailor it to the US market.

Competitions like these all help to validate the viability of Construction Cloud to prospective clients, says Pike. These competitions open up connections and opportunities from around the world, he says. “All the little things add up.”

Winning the 3P competition was the beginning: a prerequisite for the challenge at Virginia Tech is that competing teams have won a business plan competition at their home university. The team has been supported by UTS Business SchoolBUiLD and the Innovation and Creative Intelligence Unit in preparation for the pitch.

The team hopes this win will help expedite their plan to have expanded to Queensland and secured further infrastructure projects in NSW by the end of this year. 

As well as having a great idea and putting in lots of hard work, the team say an element of luck was involved in their coming together. They didn’t realise it at first, but looking back, says Pike, having the right team is by far “the most important thing”.