Pioneering Progress: How Women Entrepreneurs Redefining the Construction Landscape

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Historically, the construction sector has been largely dominated by men, with women constituting a minimal portion of its workforce.

Yet, with the escalating need for skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), efforts are intensifying to inspire more women to explore careers in the construction field. Now, this movement is revolutionizing how the construction industry operates, leveraging cutting-edge technology.

“Construction has been ripe for disruption for years,” says Gayatri Shahane, the CEO and Cofounder of Forefront Builder.

“What we’re seeing now is a convergence of technology and necessity, driving innovation in a field that’s been static for too long.”

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the UK the construction workforce was 15.8 per cent female in April to June 2023, up 1.2 per cent on the previous quarter.

Meanwhile, women are increasingly taking on leadership roles in construction.

Notable examples include Tracy Young, the Cofounder of Plangrid, the YC-backed construction tech startup. She is considered a trailblazer in the field

Kim Roy, CEO of HITT Contracting since 2017, and Meirav Oren, CEO of the construction tech startup Versatile as also considered pioneers in the construction arena.

And Kylie Rampa, CEO of QIC, is another prominent figure, demonstrating that women are breaking into top executive positions​​.

Shahane herself is among the ranks of these trailblazers in the industry; a prominent figure in the realm of AI and tech, she is now making her mark in the construction sector.

A former Data Scientist at DroneDeploy Inc., Forefront Builder utilizes software that specializes in spatial interpretation of 2D drawings.

Shahane says: “The main challenge in this industry is the lack of existing technologies, which means often starting from scratch. ”

“There are very few technologies available, but the existing ones are either inadequate or controlled by monopolies, making innovation slow and challenging. This is where we saw the gap.”

Shahane believes the construction industry has traditionally been conservative and resistant to change but is now undergoing a digital transformation: “My approach to work is defined by my readiness to face challenges and not being deterred by new technologies or initial failures,” she says.

“I believe in exploring every avenue before giving up. Solving a problem uniquely, even if others disagree, is valuable.”

But the road has its challenges. The construction industry has its set of entrenched norms and regulations, which can often be problematic to navigate.

Shahane reveals: “Adoption is a significant hurdle. It’s not just about creating innovative solutions but also about demonstrating their practical, on-the-ground value.”

Shahane’s credentials and expertise are impressive. She has a BE in Mechanical Engineering from Pune University, which laid the groundwork for her future endeavors in engineering and technology.

She moved to the US in 2018 and achieved an MSc in Data Science and Energy, from the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University where she honed her skills in data science, particularly in its application to energy systems.

Now Shahane is at the crest of the wave of women tech entrepreneurs who are introducing innovative solutions that are reshaping the sector.

And by integrating advanced technologies like AI, machine learning, and IoT into construction, the walls are being broken down.

Shahane, known for her expertise in AI, says: “AI and machine learning can optimize everything from project planning to execution. We’re discussing enhanced efficiency, reduced waste, and improved safety standards.”

It’s worth noting that the increasing presence of women in construction is changing the face of the industry and paving the way for more women to enter tech as well.

Shahane emphasizes: “Diversity in thought and approach is crucial in tech. Bringing more women into construction tech not only disrupts the sector but also empowers more women to join and excel in these traditionally male-dominated fields.”

Another critical area where these entrepreneurs are making an impact is in sustainability and green building practices. With an increasing global focus on environmental impact, tech-driven solutions for sustainable construction are more relevant than ever.

Shahane points out: “Technology can play a pivotal role in making construction more sustainable. From resource management to energy efficiency, the potential is immense.”

Collaboration between tech companies, construction firms, and regulatory bodies is essential for driving change. Shahane believes in the power of partnerships: “To revolutionize construction, we need a collaborative approach. Tech companies need to understand the intricacies of construction, and construction firms need to be open to new technologies.”

It goes without saying securing funding and investment is a crucial aspect for these entrepreneurs. With increased interest in construction tech, venture capitalists and investors are taking notice. Shahane advises: “For women entrepreneurs in this space, articulating the value proposition of their solutions is key to attracting investment. It’s about showing technological innovation and the practical impact.”

There seems to be significant potential for growth and innovation in the construction sector.

Shahane is optimistic: “We’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible with technology in construction. And as more women enter this space, we will see a surge in creativity and innovation.”

She adds: “What I love most about my profession are the people. Working in construction exposes you to a unique culture. It’s a tough industry, but beneath those hard hats are some of the most resilient, kind-hearted individuals. They’re straightforward and frank, which I find refreshing.”

Shahane says another aspect she loves is the constant challenges that keep her engaged, especially regarding product development: “I enjoy customer interactions, especially when they provide feedback on our products or ideas.

“There’s a sense of accomplishment when they recognize the problems we solve and start discussing the potential of our solutions. In one instance, a customer’s first reaction to our idea was excitement about how it’s solving a real problem and will directly impact their revenue stream.”

Bhushan Nankar is the co-founder of Forefront Builder with Shahane. He is also a specialist in Mass Timber construction.

He says Shahane’s analytical approach, creativity, and problem-solving capabilities set her apart as a woman in tech: “She is also resilient and faces challenges head-on, adapting to changing circumstances with remarkable fortitude. These are essential qualities in the tech space. Her resilience has been instrumental in navigating the ups and downs of our startup journey, allowing us to pivot and adapt in the face of challenges. This has been crucial in maintaining our business’s momentum and growth.”

Nankar adds that having unwavering integrity and the ability to uphold strong ethical standards are essential: “She also has determination, which drives Gayatri to relentlessly pursue goals and inspire her team to do the same.

“She maintains this same level of respect, making our interactions both meaningful and gratifying. This balanced treatment has been fundamental to our successful partnership and enduring friendship.”

Harshavardhan Kalbhor has known Shahane since 2011. They have worked together on several construction projects. He is currently an Estimator at a national speciality contracting firm.

Kahlbhor says: “Gayatri can process information fast and find good solutions to problems which are invaluable skills in the tech world. This makes her very valuable to her customers. They can count on her to understand their issues and solve them quickly using unique methods they could not have come up with.

“There have been multiple instances where I have challenged Gayatri to devise a technological solution to a monotonous manual task that I have to do, and she has always come through. I am always amazed to see her quickly automate mundane tasks integral to my work.”

Kalbhor adds one distinctive skill Shahane has is being able to learn new things outside the scope of her education, training, and experience: “I witnessed this when she started her education in Mechanical Engineering, switched to Energy Science, landed a job as a Data Scientist and is now adding value to the construction industry.

“This shows that she can be relied on to find solutions to problems using technologies not commonly used in the industry.”

The entry of women tech entrepreneurs into the construction industry marks a pivotal moment in both the tech and construction sectors. With their innovative approaches and tech expertise, they are not just breaking down walls but building new ones – ones that are smarter, more efficient, and more sustainable.

As Shahane aptly says: “We’re redefining what it means to build.” This movement symbolizes not just the breaking of gender barriers but also the dawn of a new, tech-driven era in construction.

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