Start-up and coming

Sam McDonnell. Photo by: Hannah Jenkins

Sam McDonnell. Photo by: Hannah Jenkins

In summary: 
  • Sam McDonnell is an industrial design graduate who, together with fellow UTS alumni Hartley Pike and Jan Schroeder, Co-Founded Construction Cloud in 2015
  • Already, the visual documentation tool is being used by the team building Sydney’s NorthConnex tunnel and it has taken out Best Intangible Product at the Virginia Tech KnowledgeWorks Global Student Entrepreneurship challenge

In the digital gold rush we’re living in, few manage to cut through the noise. But recent UTS graduate Sam McDonnell and his team at Construction Cloud are getting international acclaim as real start-up-and-comers.

McDonnell, together with fellow UTS alumni Hartley Pike and Jan Schroeder, are the Co-Founders of Construction Cloud. “It’s a visual documentation tool for large construction projects,” explains McDonnell, “and it’s already being used by the team building Sydney’s NorthConnex tunnel.”

In August, the Construction Cloud team won Best Intangible Product at the Virginia Tech KnowledgeWorks Global Student Entrepreneurship challenge, a contest that sees hundreds of entries from student start-ups all over the world. McDonnell believes making the most of the opportunities on offer at UTS has been critical to Construction Cloud’s success.

“There are people out there who have a lot more experience than us and university is the perfect place to access all of that knowledge. Part of that has been actively seeking support from different faculties since it never hurts to ask! 

“To-date we’ve received financial, educational, mentoring and other support from UTS BUiLD, the UTS Business School, the faculties of Engineering and Information Technology and Design Architecture and Building and the Innovation and Creative Intelligence Unit.”

McDonnell began his four-year industrial design degree in 2012, straight out of high school. He landed on industrial design because it offers both the practicality of engineering and an artistic component as well.

“Throughout my degree, I tried to get involved in as many extra-curricular activities as I could, including entering a whole bunch of competitions. I’ve done competitions for designing furniture and packaging, with some pretty good success. I made a whole bunch of finals and was exhibited as part of Sydney Design Festival.”

At the same time, McDonnell started using his design skills to make money online.

“I came across this platform called 99designs, which is an online platform for graphic designers to design logos and websites. So, between semesters, I would jump on that website and make a little pocket money on the side. As I got more and more work out of that, it became more and more interesting to me – designing apps and websites.”

Gaining a reputation for his graphic design skills, a mutual friend introduced McDonnell to a student entrepreneur who, at the time, was developing the now-popular app Timeweave which allows you to view and share your university timetable from your smartphone.

“He spent a year coding this entire thing and it worked fantastic. Problem was, when he first showed it to me, it looked like junk! So I spent a couple of months working with him, and in the process of helping him design his app, I was introduced to the concept of entrepreneurship,” says McDonnell.

“There’s a lot of similarities between entrepreneurship and design. Studying industrial design, you’re supposed to put yourself in the shoes of the people that are going to use the product, whether it’s a phone or a wallet or a chair or a car. You’ve got to put yourself in the mind of the end user. And that’s exactly what you’ve got to do as an entrepreneur.”

McDonnell says, “Much of the team’s success can be attributed to their addiction to learning.” The ethos at Construction Cloud, he adds, is to continually work on yourself and as you improve, so too will the business and the people around you. 

It’s something McDonnell applies to his personal life too. Outside the office, the young entrepreneur is an avid reader who is also learning German and enjoys the occasional 100 kilometre trail run!