Construction industry app builds confidence among workers
In construction, contractors and insurers struggle with risk management and quality control in an industry slow to adopt new technologies. The combination of inherent danger and a complex working environment with many players entering job sites daily for short stints has plagued the industry.
MindForge, a Columbus-based startup owned by the International Risk Management Institute, is innovating with a new app that connects the front office, supervisors and front-line craftspeople in a way the industry hasn’t seen before.
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Stokes McIntyre, the son of the institute’s founder, says his father approached him with a white paper detailing the problems he wanted to tackle. One, information on safety and training wasn’t being efficiently pushed down to construction site workers. Two, contractors had spent lots of time and money trying to solve that problem on their own.
McIntyre, who was running a media production firm, Hotbed LLC, had a background in training and team building. He found a partner in Shahin Aftabizadeh, a cultural anthropologist with software and project development experience.
Through a year of research and testing, McIntyre and Aftabizadeh built an app that gets pushed into the hands of everyone on a project, from the head office to every subcontractor’s workers.
MindForge offers onboarding and training regimens and daily back-and-forth communications in a single hub. It also automates training compliance tracking.
Corporate offices, McIntyre says, were familiar with software solutions, but most people running companies doubted line workers would adopt an app.
“When we first go into our presentation, without a doubt, someone’s going to say, ‘Do they even carry smartphones?’ But all you need to do is walk up to a morning huddle and see all of the workers scrolling through their Facebook feeds waiting for the day to start.”
Front-line workers have eagerly adopted MindForge.
“We found the more the craft workers received updates on what was happening around the job, something as simple as the porta potty moved or parking spots changed, that info flows through the system and became an incredible equalizer. They no longer had to ask a foreman or hope info leaked down,” says Aftabizadeh.
Berglund Construction, a national firm headquartered in Chicago, piloted MindForge starting in December on a tricky job doing specialty granite repairs on the Rhodes Tower in downtown Columbus.
“A lot of the repairs are unique to that building, and many tradespeople have never done this type of work before,” says Jeff Berglund, the company’s Rhodes project manager. “You can’t just walk up and see how their work is going, they might be hanging off of the 25th floor most of the day.”
Many tradespeople had never worked on skyscrapers. MindForge helped the company create training videos showing the actual steps of the process right on the side of the building.
“Prior to that capacity, really the only way a worker was going to get a mental image of what to do is by going up and doing it,” Berglund says. “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback—it gave them a higher level of confidence coming out to the project than if we’d taught them on the job.”
Berglund Construction has since ramped up its use of MindForge companywide.
The state of Illinois began requiring sexual harassment training for job site workers, and Berglund adopted MindForge as the delivery platform for that, too.
Though it’s been less than a year, Berglund and others are seeing returns in terms of safety and efficiency on the job sites. Berglund says he’s a big fan.
“At Rhodes over the last year, we have had our most successful year from a safety perspective in terms of any incidents, and that coincides with MindForge’s rollout on the project,” Berglund says.
Pankow Builders, another national industry player, cut time required for training on its MindForge-deployed job sites from eight to two hours, saving the company more than $12,600 on a single job site.
MindForge’s model is to charge on a subscription basis for training hours used, and communications functions come with the app. McIntyre believes the company can achieve profitability within two years.
He plans for MindForge to remain privately owned to allow for steady, focused expansion. He sees potential in many industries.
Cynthia Bent Findlay is a freelance writer.
22 E. Gay St., Columbus 43215
Business: Construction training platform
Founders: Stokes McIntyre and Shahin Aftabizadeh
Investment to date: $5.5 million