In an effort to cultivate the technology it needs to meet productivity, efficiency and safety goals in coming decades, Greeley, Colorado-based Hensel Phelps has launched Diverge, a new investment company that works directly with technology startups to mold industry-changing innovation.
“We’re very committed to investing in the future of our industry,” Hensel Phelps executive vice president Brad Jeanneret told Construction Dive. “We’ve made ad hoc investments over the years, but Diverge adds a real focus and structure to what we’re doing to invest in the future.”
Led by Hensel Phelps innovation leader Thai Nguyen, Diverge’s four-person team is tasked with discovering and fostering new technology that will not only provide solutions to the pain points impeding day-to-day operations but also shape the industry.
“The industry is going to get disrupted,” Nguyen told Construction Dive. “We want to be part of the disruption and not in a reactive position. Diverge is strategically aligning us to accomplish this.”
Diverge partnered with venture capital firm Shadow Ventures, which specializes in startups for the built environment, to build a portfolio of companies with potential to advance how the construction industry plans, builds and manages projects.
Seeding 14 startups
The portfolio is already populated with 14 startups, including Green Badger, a LEED and ESG reporting platform; Constructn.ai, an AI-powered construction management platform; and financial management software provider Rabbet, among others. Diverge encourages new companies to bring their pitch decks and is ready to accept new submissions for evaluation.
Diverge was established to provide a structure and strategy for financial investment and a means to more formally partner with startups during their earliest stages. In addition to capital, Diverge offers real-world feedback from end users and experts within the Hensel Phelps enterprise.
“Thai and his team are really responsible for assessing these new companies top to bottom and building those relationships to not only make sure we’re piloting them well on our projects, but also to assess whether they’re companies we want to make an investment in,” Jeanneret said.
Nguyen said Diverge offers startups a way to cultivate a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Hensel Phelps after their solutions have been implemented on a jobsite.
“A lot of times, after the job ends, they really don’t know where to go from there—it’s one and out,” he said. “Startups need sustainability and scale, and we can give them a process to grow and get better—and ultimately, one day become a viable solution for not only Hensel Phelps but the entire built environment.”
Jeanneret added that Diverge is about more than technology.
“We’re looking at innovation in every aspect of our business,” he said. “Thai’s group is identifying those areas where we believe there are solutions that could really enhance our business and then leading the R&D to understand whether the solution is really driving the desired outcome.”
Having an in-house innovation incubator also facilitates better communication across the entire Hensel Phelps enterprise.
“We have a lot of moving parts in our business. Diverge will add structure to our innovation efforts to enhance our communication across the organization,” Jeanneret said.