Modern Matchmaking: Uniting Tech and Construction

21Jul17

by Tara Roopinder

SOSA.png
SOSA’s hip workplace for construction-oriented tech startups in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“Construction is the biggest industry we have. High tech is number 2 … and we’re trying to connect the two.” UziScheffer is speaking of his home country and his company SOSA in Israel. The enormity of the construction industry ($1 trillion in the United States, and 10 times that worldwide) would create a windfall for tech companies should it ever modernize. Tech companies have been drooling about it for decades.

It has been slow going. While engineers can’t get enough tech (product designers are the first to raise their hands when new technology is offered), the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) community (and construction in particular) likes to hold technology at arm’s length. When products were being designed in 2D CAD, construction’s idea of high tech was a fax machine. Even when architects signed on for building information modeling tools, construction workers asked for PDFs on the job site.

When an entire country flies the tech flag (see Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle), it’s not surprising that it was a call from Israel to introduce us to a “tech hub” that promises to unite construction and high tech. I was going to hear about how SOSA was going to bring its construction industry up to tech speed. It was going to linkits tech construction–oriented startups to the companies that would benefit from them the most. Like a matchmaking mom, knowing her sons were too busy to settle down and unplug from their fast-paced lives, they were going to arrange for eligible girls to come to the house for dinner.

But Scheffer is not the typical Jewish mom. Once a commercial pilot, he has explored for diamonds (albeit in online marketplaces of his own making) and worked his way up in SOSA to become its CEO. He aims squarely at the missed potential between construction and technology. He mentions how the industry could be so much better off if it put sensors on its cranes, used drones to monitor building projects and so on.
Scheffer wants to make it happen by creating an association between the startups and industries that will keep attracting investors. An impressive number of venture capital and investment groups are listed on the SOSA website.

Incubated in Israel, SOSA has jumped the ocean and established its first overseas office in New York. The company has plans to expand to the San Francisco area, China and India.

SOSA is not limiting itself to marrying high tech to only the construction industry. “Construction is just one vertical,”Scheffersaid. SOSA has already worked with the insurance and financial industries. “We are expanding to additional tech ecosystems where there is a critical mass in the supply of technology and a demand for innovation.”

SOSA (the name derives from “South of Salame,” a busy street in the heart of Tel Aviv) will house tech startups but is not making that a condition of acceptance. Startups can also have offices elsewhere. SOSA aims to be more than a shared rental office space of the kind that is springing up in every city (example WeWork). “You don’t just rent our space by pulling out your credit card,” said Scheffer. “You have to be accepted.”For those who are accepted, SOSA adds access to big construction companies and investors. “SOSA is selective about what startups it accepts,” said Scheffer. “For those, office spaces are rented for market rates.”

“A small part of our business model is our rent,” said Scheffer. But most members form the database of high-tech startups. “Our investors appreciate a chance to get first crack at these startups.”

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