We should leave the world in a better state than when we joined
1 April 2021
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journeys before you founded Qflow?
It started whilst I was studying at the time…I got involved in the social enterprise scene and set up a few projects aimed at providing clean water to schools using a rudimentary filtration technique in Kenya and Malawi. This was my first exposure to combining business with sustainability, and I loved it. The scale of the impact is much more achievable as you decouple reliance on external funding with output. Following this, I took part in a programme aimed at creating solutions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, where we pitched our concepts at the UN HQs in New York; it was here I met my co-founder Brittany. We both decided we wanted to transform our industry, engineering and construction, an industry we loved but were appalled by the negative impacts it was having in terms of waste and carbon. This is when Qflow was born!
What inspired you to create Qflow? How did you get your idea/concept for your business?
Both myself and my co-founder, Brittany Harris, had been working within the construction space for a number of years, but in very different parts of the process. Brittany was working on the design phase, modelling new infrastructure and buildings against certain project requirements including sustainability, and I was working for a different organisation during the construction phase. The day-to-day role involved a lot of manual data collection and reporting but was never fully utilised in a meaningful way, meaning we were prone to making the same mistakes again and again, excessively consuming resources and generating waste. We decided that it was time we closed the loop between construction and design, such that we could understand the difference between “what was designed” and “what was actually built”. We can use this data to inform better designs moving forwards and make significant gains in efficiency during the construction process. So the idea behind Qflow really came from a combination of solving our own pain points and understanding that there was a significant data gap in the sector!
‘You believe we should leave the world in a better state than when we joined’. What are you specifically doing to address this?
We are aiming to support construction in moving towards Net Zero Carbon. By supporting the industry to minimise waste, improve efficiency and productivity, and reduce emissions, we hope that the impact we (as a society) leave on the world is more of a positive one. This industry creates our infrastructure, our workplaces, our homes, and the social value potential is significant. If its contribution to global emissions can be minimised, we’ll all benefit from this transformation.
Tell us more about the technology you are using to provide a sustainable future for all?
The first thing to note is that we’ve taken a solution first (not technology first) approach. We are focused on solving problems for the industry, and technology is just a tool to get us there. To help the industry get there we’ve focused on 2 core beliefs:
- Simplicity is key
- Remaining independent from the supply chain is important to enable mass change
As such, the solution we have landed on is one which incorporates OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and a series of machine-learning based models used to digitise and structure data, as well as feedback new insights to construction project teams. In short, photos are taken of paper delivery and waste tickets on-site, which get digitised by Qflow and fed back as raw data combined with a series of recommendations of how to mitigate carbon and gain other efficiencies. We are using this data in combination with other sources to provide a more streamlined way of making sense of what is really going into these developments, and bringing together otherwise disparate and unreported data on sites. The result is a reduction in carbon output from this space by approx. 1M tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents over the next 4 years.
Where would you like Qflow to be in five years?
We have a vision of a construction industry that uses only the resources it needs in the most efficient way possible; delivering a built environment that meets the needs of society without compromising future generations.
We’d like to see Qflow supporting construction in regions all over the world. We’re focused on the UK market for now, but are looking at expansion to other territories which would also benefit from our data collection approach and resulting insights. Our mission is to be the leading tool for design verification and proactive resource management on live construction sites.
What foundational step is most critical to building an enduring company?
It’s all about people. Whilst I can reel off a long list of lessons we’ve learnt about product focus, knowing when to pivot, development approaches and pricing mechanisms, if we didn’t create a culture where our team felt productive, happy and safe, we wouldn’t get very far. It’s like with most other things in life, positivity breeds positivity, and we strive to build on these foundations with our current team as we continue to grow over the coming years.
In your roles as founders, what has been the most challenging thing so far?
Building a robust culture. Our core purpose and vision has always remained steadfast, and our team are all committed to the same mission, but trying to grow a radically transparent culture hasn’t been without its challenges. I think sometimes our approach is taken some by surprise and takes some adjustment if you’ve typically worked with a larger organisation. But it’s something we embrace and try to maintain each day. Add a global pandemic into the mix and you create the additional dimension of communication challenges, but which our team have handled remarkably well and continue to embrace as we move forward.
What would be your Tech predictions over the next five years?
Within construction, I think we’ll see the rise of “boring tech”. It’s very much about solving a problem, rather than building a complicated solution. Having said this, any technology which reduces reliance on humans have significant benefits in terms of risk exposure and Health and Safety, this might also include robotics and IoT-based products. Whilst some of these elements can operate across 5-10% of a construction project, I suspect once the technology improves that we’ll see this gradually increase in the capacity to take on more complex tasks towards automation. The move towards prefabrication will also help to push this.
Which entrepreneurs do you respect and why?
My co-founder, Brittany Harris, first and foremost. She has a beautiful way of looking at the world and I have the absolute pleasure of working with her every day on a mission which we are wholly passionate about and committed to. And there are so many entrepreneurs I’ve had the pleasure to meet and engage with over the years, all of whom have taught me how to look at the world in a different way, to name a few:
- Elspeth Finch
- Josh Steer
- Lucy Hackshaw
- Josh Valman