The Construction Startup Competition – An Interview with Ibon Iribar

The 2022 winners

The Construction Startup Competition 2022 allowed innovative teams from around the globe to showcase their solutions to leading industry developers and investors. I sat down with Ibon Iribar of CEMEX Ventures to discuss the competition and its value to the industry.

Ibon Iribar is an investment and open innovation advisor at CEMEX Ventures. The company organized the 2022 Construction Startup Competition in partnership with Black & Veatch, Dysruptek by Haskell, Ferrovial, GS Futures, Hilti, VINCI Group´s Leonard, NOVA by Saint Gobain, Procore, and Zacua Ventures. 

The 2022 gold medalists were Automatic Construction, Carbon Limit, Exodigo, and Soil Connect. My interview with these companies is coming soon.

The growing Contech ecosystem

The term “ecosystem” is often used to describe the complex network of technology startups and their supporters. I asked Iban whether he sees such an ecosystem emerging around construction technology.

“There is already an ecosystem composed of construction disruptors and entrepreneurs that is growing significantly. After a few years of investment and partnership activity, there are already clear signals of consolidation in the Contech ecosystem, where strategic partnerships, investments, and project deployments are increasingly common,” says Iribar.

He reminded us that 2021 was a record year in investment activity ($5.4Bn in more than 200 transactions), and the 2022 figures reached similar levels.

The construction sector needs innovation because it’s facing challenges that traditionally operating firms can’t solve alone. Just think of the net-zero goals that governments and construction clients are setting.

Ibon Iribar of CEMEX Ventures introducing the 2022 winners at the Pitch Day during Procore’s Groundbreak in New Orleans

A startup competition as a vehicle for industry-wide innovation

The first Construction Startup Competition took place in 2017. In total, over 3,000 startups have participated.

The competition, led by CEMEX Ventures and sponsored by other relevant industry partners, has had a remarkable impact on the entrepreneurial field of the construction industry. Many consider it one of the largest and most significant programs on a global scale. Year by year, well-known industry corporations are interested in participating as partners or deep diving more into the winning and finalist companies to implement their solutions.

Iribar thinks that previous sector experience and industry knowledge are vital to succeeding in the Contech ecosystem, but he welcomes entrepreneurs from all sectors to join. Industry knowledge is helpful as it facilitates faster and deeper access to decision-makers. Likewise, the quality of connections in the industry and the innovative landscape help when deploying initial test projects or raising the first significant capital.

Gonzalo Galindo, Head of CEMEX Ventures, at the Pitch Day

What’s in it for the startups?

Contech entrepreneurs can obtain several benefits when applying to the competition. Some of them are strategic partnerships, valuable mentorships by industry players with deep knowledge, or getting capital from investors. Being selected as a finalist or winner provides exposure in front of industry investors and decision-makers.

The winners have a track record of success.

“Based on the information available about the progress of the winners of the past three competitions (excluding 2022), the winners of the last three competitions have successfully launched their first official investment round of $1M+. Thus, this competition can be highlighted as an inflection point for moving to the next stage as a startup,” Iribar explains.

He emphasizes the importance of partnering with strategic investors and corporations that are present along the construction value chain and have a business presence in several geographies. Although eagerness to try new technologies is essential, these agreements can lead to commercial contracts, financial support, or introductions to other key people in the sector.

Looking forward to the next competition

CEMEX Ventures and the new partners joining the CSC team in 2023 are already preparing to launch an exciting new edition of the competition.

CEMEX Ventures also publishes a list of the 50 most relevant companies standing out (or about to do so) in the Contech ecosystem. Most of these companies have already applied to the competition.

“I would encourage all entrepreneurs with tech and innovative solutions able to face up to the current needs and challenges of the sector to stay tuned through our social media accounts for new announcements very soon. We are already willing to welcome the top solutions of 2023,” Iribar concludes.

The photos are provided by CEMEX Ventures. The title image features the 2022 competition winners. Iribar is second from the left.

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