ShapeMeasure builds smart tools that make quick work of manual labour for flooring, cabinet-making, and tile-setting. Their product enables contractors to measure and cut flooring materials with the touch of a button, transforming what was once challenging work into a simple task.
Founder Ben Blumer was leading the robotics division at a startup called Istuary Innovation before company money began to run out, and he decided to look for a new opportunity. With newfound free time, Ben began to renovate his condo flooring. After many frustrating days of manual labor, measuring, cutting, re-cutting and re-measuring, he had an epiphany. Not only did he have a new appreciation for why contractors charged so much, but he realized he could create a better solution. Drawing on his wealth of experience in designing automated systems, Ben had a vision to automate the measuring and cutting labor typically involved in laying a new floor.
As a whole, the benefits of automation that have reshaped other industries like manufacturing and agriculture, driving massive growth. But somehow this transformation sidestepped the construction industry, with it experiencing a 40% decline in efficiency. With this knowledge, Ben was compelled to create a prototype and take the plunge into entrepreneurship.
Stepping into entrepreneurship also meant pursuing a calling Ben felt was there since young adulthood. “My dad owns his own company doing high-end home constructions, so I always knew running a company was going to be the outcome for me,” he says.
Competitive advantage: a market ripe for disruption
ShapeMeasure works by automating the tasks of measuring and cutting of materials for construction. Traditionally, construction requires a huge labor spend. ShapeMeasure projects that for tile-setting, flooring and cabinet-making alone, the labor costs add up to $11.9B USD per year. ShapeMeasure’s technology is designed to reduce these labor costs by 80%, saving $9.5B USD per year.
In addition, the company aims to reduce the inefficiencies that typically accompany construction sites. Since homes are built in stages through a series of unrelated companies doing piece work, it’s common for unexpected conditions or work quality issues to arise on site. It is rare for anything to be built exactly according to plan. Walls are often not quite square, and floors aren’t quite level. Skilled tradespeople then spend countless additional hours measuring, cutting, re-measuring and re-cutting in order to fit new work into less than perfect spaces. ShapeMeasure’s scanning and cutting technology can measure site conditions with the push of a button and cut workpieces exactly to size, automatically. The tools have been proven to reduce required construction time by 50% and can be operated by unskilled laborers, which also reduces labor costs by 80%. Contractors who use the product will be able to undercut the competition fiercely and set a new service standard.
The team is very proud of how much progress they’ve made in such a short period of time. In only a few months since launch, the team has gone from working in the founder’s spare home office to knocking on contractors’ doors, refining the problem, conceptualizing the product, and being accepted into the HAX Hardware Accelerator in Shenzhen at a $2.5M USD valuation. The team has gone on to refine the prototype into a streamlined, easy-to-use and accurate demo unit. They are continuing to refine the solution and are looking forward to putting the product into the hands of more customers. ShapeMeasure is just wrapping up with the Shenzhen accelerator before heading to San Francisco to raise another round of financing.
Challenges and opportunities
Some of ShapeMeasure’s biggest challenges have ended up providing the biggest benefits. Participating in the HAX Accelerator in China, an accelerator focused on hardware startups, provided the team with workspace, engineering resources and business mentorship to grow. On the other hand, their primary customers are located in North America and Europe. Being so far away from their customer base makes it difficult to instantly respond to their needs and feedback about the product.
Reason for competing
Winning NVBC will help ShareMeasure fast-track manufacturing of its first product, allowing the team to focus on putting the product in customer’s hands. The NVBC winnings will give the team the financial leeway to hire experienced manufacturing contractors and hire an additional, full-time sales and marketing staff member to evangelize for the product. In addition, NVBC’s in-kind offerings will help the team pursue patents and manage all accounting needs as they rapidly grow into a large company.
In five years, ShapeMeasure aims to be the de facto standard for flooring, tile-setting, and cabinet-making. The goal is to set a new standard for customers to expect, leaving the service price, quality, and speed unmatched by contractors relying on traditional tools. Currently, the team is applying their technology for floors to other interior finishing markets such as window-frames, trim/ moldings and custom furniture.
Looking ahead even further, ShapeMeasure hopes to transform another other aspect of interior finishing: putting tasks that once belonged to seasoned craftsmen into the hands of do-it-yourselfers. The team foresees their measuring technology being used by regular people to scan their own homes, enabling them to have pre-cut materials delivered directly to their door to be assembled as easily as flat pack furniture.
Ben Blumer | CEO: Ben has won awards for his research in both robotics and physics. He’s developed robots that assist in operating rooms and automate manufacturing equipment, even programming the world’s first legal robot ping-pong serve. His technical and business leadership has resulted in rapidly developed robotics technologies that solve real-world problems. Today, he’s using that experience to create a safer, smarter and more efficient construction industry.
Dain Galts | Director of Hardware Development: Dain has built embedded systems for stratospheric balloon launch campaigns, including collaborations with NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). He’s designed and deployed a network of high-sensitivity magnetic field sensors for measurements of space plasma. He’s using his experience building electronics for the most extreme environments to ensure that ShapeMeasure’s tools never fail.
Sahil Girish | Mechanical Engineer: The latest addition to the team, Sahil brings years of experience prototyping at DarkVision Technologies and designing tools for reliability and field-worthiness for use in the harsh environments of the downhole oil and gas industry. Today, he’s working to design, ruggedize and validate our portable cutting tools.
Professor Elizabeth Croft | Advisor: Elizabeth is a world-leader in robotics research. She founded the prestigious Collaborative Advanced Robotics and Intelligent Systems laboratory at the University of British Columbia. She is currently the Dean of Engineering at Monash University in Australia. As an expert in human-robot interaction, her guidance ensures our products are completely intuitive for the end user.