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Construction expert turned entrepreneur: growing a new venture from scratch

by BDigital_Admin
Join SymTerra’s co-founder, Sarah Crawley, as she explores the ups and downs of scaling a new venture in the construction sector.

WEBINAR ALERT – 3 February: Join SymTerra’s co-founder, Sarah Crawley, and three construction experts for a warts-and-all look at the journey of growing a new venture in the construction sector

SymTerra is a construction management software that allows for real time updates and reporting from site.

Sarah, along with fellow co-founder John Ryan, spent a combined 25 years on site management and engineering in construction and infrastructure before taking the leap as tech founders.

Their aim? To design a better way for construction companies of all sizes to run their projects faster, safer, and more efficiently. 

Sarah first developed the SymTerra platform in 2019, having completed a series of intensive care ward refurbishments for Mace, and soon brought on John to help grow the business, following a launch in March 2021.  

After the public launch of ‘freemium’ subscriptions in September 2022, SymTerra is now accessible to any company across the supply chain. This, the founders say, helps to democratise access to digital tools.

Today, SymTerra has been adopted by over 125 company users across more than 224 projects – from major platform extensions for Crossrail to highways maintenance across the country. SymTerra has even been used on the refurbishment of a castle in the Scottish Highlands.

Here, Sarah shares some of her experience on the start-up journey.

What was the catalyst for starting your own construction tech firm?

In our previous lives, we both worked in construction. No matter how big or technical the construction project, we always found ourselves managing the projects with Microsoft Excel, emails or consumer messaging apps like WhatsApp. Cue endless frustration, confusion and challenges for teams trying to communicate and manage complex projects with inadequate digital tools. 

The minimal construction tech we did have access to didn’t benefit us and was a hassle to use. We would regularly have to make decisions with incorrect, out of date information -or sometimes no information at all – and yet still needed to complete the work we were expected to deliver. Poor communication from site can have such a detrimental impact on a project, and yet we were unable to communicate with our subcontractors. We noticed a gap in the market and decided we wanted to create a tool that actually benefitted site teams.

What is the value you hope to create in the sector?

SymTerra construction management software was designed to be easy to use and simple to implement across the entire project supply chain – the first construction tech that teams on site want to use. That was a really important benchmark for us, because of the legislative landscape and economic environment that is making digitisation a ‘must-have’ survival approach for many in the construction sector. Without access to digital tools that serve the needs of those on site, we believe the sector will struggle to make meaningful progress in establishing the golden thread of data needed for greater building safety.

SymTerra started with just the two of us and a dog, working in a spare room. Fast forward nearly two years, and we have grown to a team of 15 people, have secured funding from a high calibre investor base, and have a whole floor in the (dog-friendly) creative Design District in North Greenwich.

What have been some of the hardest lessons?

For us, our greatest challenge so far has been the fundraising. When we started out, we didn’t have an investor network, so we really did start from square one (albeit with the confidence of a proven business model and happy clients under our belt)! We initially struggled to learn the rules of the game and to know what was needed. After a lot of blood, sweat and tears, we started to find and speak to the right VCs with the industry background knowledge.

We overcame this challenge with resilience, determination and a lot of late night Deliveroos. We’re not afraid to ask questions and acknowledge the limits of our expertise – so we sought out other founders who were in or had been in a similar situation, and spent time with VCs who were happy to give us guidance and direction.

What have been some of the highlights? 

Our users using the application and supporting its growth and development continues to be the best highlight. Building and growing an application built for site teams, which is accessible for contractors and the supply chain to adopt and get running with quickly was our founding principle.

What do you hope to achieve with this webinar?

The journey to starting, and now scaling, a construction technology company has been eventful, exciting and challenging. Most of all, it’s been a learning journey! From fundraising to team building, from marketing to customer relationship management, we have built up a huge resource of knowledge and experience that we know will add value.

We’re excited to be sharing the lessons from that journey to encourage and motivate others who might be thinking about starting their own venture this year.   

Construction is an incredible sector to work in, and like my fellow panellists for the webinar, I believe there is so much valuable insight that we can share to ourselves, and others in the sector, to make the leap into a rewarding entrepreneurial career. 

Knowledge and expertise can add huge value to bringing the sector forward, not just in terms of digitalisation but also in keeping talent within the sector to make it stronger and more resilient for the future; on our webinar, we will talk to entrepreneurs in the sector who are focused on helping the industry operate more efficiently, communicate more openly and innovate and evolve at all levels. 

Register here to join the online discussion.

Read next: Build in Digital unveils Top 50 Contech Partners

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