Tim Brinkman, a graduating EIT Digital Master School student, is on a mission. He wants to make the building industry more sustainable by taking it into the digital age. He had been mulling over the idea for years, and now he and his cofounders have launched a startup that has already been a finalist in a contest for entrepreneurs, securing them their first real customers. "Construqt.eu can become the Amazon of the building sector."
Let's rewind a bit on how it all started. Tim Brinkman sent in an idea for the annual EIT Digital Kick-off in Paris. The kick-off is the official launch of the academic year for the dual degree EIT Digital Master School, a European network of top tech universities. Students from all the Masters programmes gather together to work in international teams on a business challenge.
Brinkman's idea for making the building sector more sustainable was accepted and the team he was leading won the challenge. "The construction industry is emitting the most CO2 of all sectors. At the same time, it is the least digitalised industry. I believe in digitalisation and I believe we can do more for the climate and be efficient at the same time."
Brinkman's idea was born a summer before, during an EIT Climate summer school, where he met two like-minded EIT students. The winning of the kick-off motivated the three idea holders to further develop the idea. During the first year of his dual-degree programme Data Science, the team received coaching via the pre-incubator EIT Climate Greenhouse challenge and started to shape the contours of a business model.
Then, while taking his specialisation year at EIT Digital's partner university KTH in Stockholm, Brinkman attracted EIT Digital Master School student Haseeb Asif to the sustainable building sector project. This resulted in the startup, Construqt.eu. "We want to shake up the building sector. Everybody is talking about sustainability. We want to heed this societal call for sustainable products."
Construqt.eu is both a consultancy as and a selling platform for sustainable building materials. Brinkman says the aim is that algorithms consult architects and engineers. "Did you know that architects are spending about 60 hours each time trying to find accurate building materials? Imagine what it would take if they wanted to find sustainable building materials. With our smart tool, they can easily find and compare sustainable-labelled building materials. Our platform could expand like an Amazon platform for building materials."
Suppliers who want to be on the platform have to be sustainable. To guarantee this, the suppliers go through a selection process. "If they want their product on our platform, they need to fill in forms and show us certificates. Then we can label the products on sustainability criteria like if it is bio-based, recyclable, produced with renewable energy, and also the product origin."
The consultancy part is automated. "We can automate the consultancy due to my Data Science background. This means that if an architect needs certain building materials, (s)he fills in a form and directly retrieves a PDF with the products to use. These can be bought on our platform. We negotiate a price with them based on the size of the order."
In September 2019, the CLC-manager of the EIT Digital Node in Stockholm suggested Brinkman to apply to the KTH incubator, where Brinkman was studying at that time. "This is the added value of EIT Digital: the network. Being part of the EIT Digital Master School gives you a network. I also recruited our new partner and EIT Digital Master School student Haseeb thanks to this network."
KTH accepted the proposal for Construqt.eu and provides the startup with coaching. "Until then we were playing, exploring the market and the business. Now it is for real."
Crack the crisis
The reality felt even more tangible when Construqt.eu made it to the finals of a Dutch crowdsourcing contest called KraakdeCrisis, which is translated as Crack the Crisis, held on 8 May 2020. This contest challenged entrepreneurs to resiliently overcome the crisis for a more sustainable, socially and economically strong Netherlands. Brinkman: "There were over 300 initiatives that applied. We belonged to the 11 best ones. As a finalist we were invited to a bootcamp organised by consultancy firm PWC and Frisse Blikken, who also did a so-called MAEX score, to measure the social impact of our initiative. This was a good score. The impact on CO2 reduction we can make is about the same as the entire car fleet in the Netherlands emits."
The team did not win the 25,000 Euro prize for the ultimate winner. Instead, they finished with a golden ticket to the Dutchtainable Blitzscale. At this event, they will get one-to-one talks with CEOs of large Dutch companies like Philips and Arcadis to further grow their startup. Their solution also got them on Dutch radio. "This was very nice, I talked at 06.00 in the morning to a journalist from radio Omroep Gelderland about how we are making the world more sustainable. The construction sector is the biggest polluter in the world."
The online pitch contest could be watched by anyone - including architects. From this audience came the biggest prize they could have hoped for: their first real big customers. "We were approached by two architect agencies who want our consultancy to help them find sustainable materials. We did have customers before, but on a smaller scale, these new customers are the type we are looking for."
These customers are the first step to the financial sustainability of Construqt.eu. The business model is oriented on consultancy, subscription and transaction costs. "If these two companies are enthusiastic, things can speed up really fast." The potential impact could be huge. Brinkman estimates a potential turnover for sustainable products of about 3 million Euros in the Dutch market alone.
Currently, Brinkman and his partners orient on the Dutch and the Scandinavian market. "These countries are ahead of other countries, in terms of the number of sustainable suppliers and on matters around legislation and mind-set. In the Netherlands, for example, there is a strong focus on circular construction, meaning reusable materials. That is our market. In Scandinavia the focus is on biobased materials: that is what we offer as well. Also, the United States appears in our market research as a good market for us. This market is, for now, a bridge too far."
The current penetration in these two markets is the first step in a global strategy, says Brinkman. "Our strategy is an Amazon strategy. We start slowly putting some products online and once this sets off we will put more products in more markets online. We are still figuring out how to grow the platform, to be honest. We want to be a consultancy firm first, and roll out our database once we have a significant number of sustainable products in place."
Competition is limited, says Brinkman. "There is one competitor who kind of does the same but focuses online with a random database. Not so much is happening there. Our platform is smart and we are focused on how the materials are made and sustainability. I think that if you want building material, you need us."
From a planning point of view, the timeline fits well with Brinkman's graduation. Brinkman is now finalising his thesis, while also doing his internship at the Danish consultancy engineering firm Ramboll. "They might want to be a customer of my startup too."
After his graduation, he intends to fully dedicate his time to building Construqt.eu into a large company. "I am only 23 years old. I have time to dedicate myself to my company. I would like to have an impact on our world and I believe I can do this by becoming either a member of the European Parliament or an entrepreneur. It turns out I will start with being an entrepreneur."