My experience in the construtech ecosystem in Chile

by Sonia Reyes, Office Manager, BIMetriXAcademia BIM, and WIB Regional Lead, Valparaíso, Chile.

This may be a little surprising, but four years ago I was working in a totally different industry with no previous construction background. I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 2013 in my home country of El Salvador – according to Wikipedia and my geographics studies teacher, one of the smallest countries in the American continent.

After that, I decided to move to Chile to pursue a Master’s in Strategy and International Business. I wanted to gain some international work experience before getting back home, so I stayed. Little did I know that this would become my dearly loved second home.

My path into BIM began in 2016 after hanging out with another fellow Salvadorean, who at the time was working in an AEC consulting company – but we both wanted to become independent. We had a very clear idea of the type of company we wanted to start, an e-learning BIM platform serving the AEC professionals with specialized in short courses based on BIM roles. We funded Academia BIM in 2017, which is not that long ago, but back then taking online courses was not very popular in Chile. We knew of e-learning platforms with BIM courses, but most of them were in English. We wanted to create content in Spanish and help encourage the widespread use of BIM methodologies in Chile.

Now we do not only offer e-learning courses, but also BIM training, BIM implementation, and automation services targeted to companies within the AEC and mining industry.

Thanks to several consulting projects that allow us to work closely with clients and their teams to understand their workflows at the construction site, we realized an opportunity to help improve productivity in a specific but relevant task: structural work planning, scheduling and tracking. This is how and why we created BIMetriX in 2019.

BIMetriX provides an intuitive cloud-based solution for BIM planning and control at the construction site. Normally teams need a variety of complex software solutions to connect planning data and day-to-day updates of completed tasks with the BIM model. Making BIM on-site difficult for non-tech-savvy users without years of BIM experience. Developing BIMetriX opened up the path to enter the start-up world in Chile.

Despite its geographic isolation and small size, with a population of almost 18 million people according to the latest census in 2017, Chile is considered the best country for business in Latin America (Forbes, 2015). With an open economy and a sophisticated banking industry, Chile attracts entrepreneurs both locally and internationally. Entrepreneurship is also ingrained in Chilean culture. According to the 2018/2019 Global Entrepreneurship Report, 72% of adults (ages between 18-64 years old) considered entrepreneurship as a career option and 49% had plans to start a business within the following years.

There is no doubt that Chile has positioned itself as a start-up hub in Latin America. And one cannot talk about the tech and start-up ecosystem in Chile without mentioning the key role Start-Up Chile has played since it was first launched in 2010. 

Start-Up Chile is a public start-up accelerator created by the Chilean Government that seeks to attract early-stage entrepreneurs to bootstrap their start-ups in Chile as a foundation and go global. Their official records state that 54% of the active start-ups of their portfolio still have operations in Chile, of which 50.4% are foreign start-ups and 49.6% are Chilean.

Chile and mostly Santiago is home to over 1,000 start-ups, from agrotech to fintech, and more, but as I scroll and scroll the list and hit Google doing my research, I see that only a handful come from the AEC industry. I am not surprised – I have experienced this first-hand. For instance, my team and I had the pleasure of being part of the 2020 Start-Up Chile cohort, Seed G 24 (a truly exceptional program and people!). Our generation consisted of 53 start-ups from 10 different countries, only three were construction-related, including us.

So, one wonders why there are not that many construtech solutions as in other industries, such as fintech and retail? To be honest, I don’t know the answer, but I do have some ideas based on the challenges I have faced in this journey, so far:

  • The construction industry (at site) is still very primitive: I know it sounds harsh but it’s true. We all know the statistics about its stagnant productivity. According to McKinsey & Company, since 1995 the global average value-added per hour has grown at around a quarter of the rate in manufacturing. No industry has done worse. These numbers are global, but locally the industry is not different. Most companies still operate based on traditional methods.
  • Technology adoption: To be honest, two years ago when we started BIMetriX we did not expect the amount of resistance most companies have to embracing technology at the construction site. We were already familiar with working and implementing BIM at the design stages, but at the site, things are totally different. We faced this even though equipment and machines are used to make work more efficient. The latest innovations that can significantly improve productivity, such as BIM, are so often overlooked. At BIMetriX we have a saying regarding resistance to change: “The challenge is never technological but cultural.”
  • Lack of collaboration and communication: By nature, the construction industry is complex. Coming from another industry, I was surprised at how things work. For instance, generally speaking, every construction project is independent, a little island within the sea of projects a company has. Every project has different project managers, architects, different contractors, etc.
  • Labour shortage and rotation: This has been one of the main pains we face as a Software as a Service (SaaS) focused at the construction site. I cannot tell you how many times we have got the notification that one of the crew members on site has left. This can be a problem when you are still a small team start-up and have to start training anew every time.

Of course, there are still steps to take as an industry, but overall, in recent years, there has been more significant effort to boost the influx and development of constructech solutions. One example is Construir Innovando, an initiative created in 2018 by the companies Echeverría IzquierdoMasisa, and the Chilean Chamber of Construction with the main objective of linking start-up solutions, ideas and innovative proposals with the challenges posed by our industry, to make it more sustainable, productive and efficient. We entered the program in June 2019, and since then we have had the opportunity to work and prototype with some of the main construction and real estate companies in Chile.

Likewise, more and more companies are promoting open innovation initiatives within their organizations, hand-in-hand with start-ups. This is a big step in the modernization of our industry. So, I am very confident about the future of digital transformation and construtech in Chile.