It’s startup déjà vu for Brian Saab and Madrona Venture Group.
The Seattle venture capital firm today led a $3 million investment in Unearth, a Seattle-based software startup that uses drones and aerial images to create interactive site maps for large-scale commercial and civil construction projects. Vulcan Capital also participated in the funding round.
Saab is the CEO and co-founder of Unearth. In late 2016, he was looking for another startup adventure after his previous Seattle company, Buuteeq, sold to Priceline in 2014. He was intrigued by the growth of drones, satellite imagery and aerial photography in construction, a familiar industry given Saab’s multi-generational family construction business in West Texas.
Saab brought a few of his old Buuteeq colleagues down to construction projects in Texas where the entrepreneurs quickly discovered how technology could help tie together siloed data across various stakeholders. Amy Hutchins and Nate Miller, key members at Buuteeq, teamed up with Saab to launch Unearth.
Fast forward to today and Unearth is releasing its product to the public after getting feedback and traction from early adopters.
The startup’s software takes aerial photos and pages of construction plans and stitches them into single images. The images are then overlaid and linked with documents related to the work being done in specific locations.
“Our customers tell us they’re saving hours per day across all the stakeholders because we cut down on travel time to project sites, have prevented rework, and keep the key decision-makers aligned on actual build progress,” Saab said. “We’ve even heard that builders are expanding their business footprint because they can confidently serve larger geographic territories and bid on more projects with our software.”
It’s a reunion of sorts for Saab and Madrona, which also invested in Buuteeq.
“Brian and his team are applying modern technology in a simple and effective manner to a huge issue — productivity in the construction industry,” Madrona Managing Director S. “Soma” Somasegar, who will join Unearth’s board, said in a statement.
Unearth focuses on organizing data based on place and time at a given jobsite.
“Once we had unified construction data by place, the real magic happened,” Saab explained. “We found all types of stakeholders, from executive landowners to project managers in the office to superintendents and inspectors in the field, all started to talk about what they were seeing in our software. And best of all, as we inspired more collaboration and data collection, we gave rise to a digital twin of the project — a living copy that has value for years in terms of ongoing maintenance, updates, and even disputes.”
Saab said the construction industry has been slow to adopt technology but noted that younger workers are bringing a desire for more tech integration. Landowners are also expecting more real-time updates and progress documentation of their jobs.
As a result, there are many new hardware and software products now available, though Saab said there are “lots of point solutions in the market.”
“Some providers just provide drone survey options, others are just providing 360 photo support, and still others are classic project management system trying to retrofit their software to support new digital data types like 3D point clouds,” he said. “Unearth streamlines data from new tech; we’re the peanut butter and jelly solution for the industry, putting all your tech’s data together to make it better.”
Unearth employs 12 people and expects to grow as a result of the funding. The company is similar to Identified Technologies, a startup GeekWire reported about as part of our GeekWire HQ2 initiative in Pittsburgh last month.
Saab and his co-founders are not the only former Buuteeq leaders attracting investor attention after the Priceline acquisition. Forest Key, Buuteeq co-founder and former CEO, leads a growing virtual reality startup in Seattle called Pixvana, which also counts Madrona as a key investor.