A startup founded by an engineer and a building scientist is set to launch an online ‘one-stop-shop’ for creating smart building plans, which can be approved by local councils within minutes.
The startup has also turned heads on the international stage. In April, it was the top pick on a special episode of US podcast This Week in Startups which assessed the prospects of six Australian tech companies.
State ICT Minister Dave Kelly said in a media release that using udrew to design, submit and gain approval for small residential project plans could reduce costs by more than 70 per cent — which could save local government millions of dollars annually.
The cost saving derives from the software’s ability to automatically check compliance with local and national building codes.
“It does all the structural engineering … the elevations … and calculates all the building materials for you as well,” udrew co-founder and chief business development officer Walid Sharif told create.
He added that the platform incorporates a marketplace that allows users to source their materials and walks users through council processes and applications. Udrew is available on request to builders and homeowners in WA, but council approval will not be automated until the system goes live.
Sharif said the prize money from the innovation award will be used to take on additional staff and expand the software’s range from brick and limestone boundary fences to 47 small external structures such as driveways and patios, followed by larger residential projects.
Less time sitting on the fence
According to Sharif, udrew founder Tom Young came up with the idea for udrew after it took nine months for him to receive approval to build a boundary fence.
Sharif explained that this was an excessive delay, but current approval methods can take up to 24 weeks and with costs as high as $4,500 — including professional advice from draftspeople and engineers.
“We do this in less than 20 minutes for less than $500,” he said, adding that the udrew system had taken 10 years to perfect.
Additional cost reductions will flow from the time saved by local councils, which currently check plans manually. Sharif said that udrew could reduce the length of this task by 92 per cent.
Although some people have expressed concern that udrew might cost them their jobs, Sharif said it wasn’t about that.
“It’s about taking all this little stuff away and making your life easier… so you can focus on bigger things [such as] urban development areas,” he said.
Today WA, tomorrow the world
While the startup is initially rolling out its product in Western Australia, Sharif said it had the potential to have much wider coverage once building codes for other states have been uploaded.
“Technically speaking… I can draw you a fence in New South Wales somewhere, but in order for it to be 100 per cent accurate we need to enter more data,” Sharif explained.
The company has also done case studies in California that indicate that the building code is “pretty much identical” for small structures such as fences and patios. Their research points to a high chance of similar regulations around the globe for their target project types, Sharif said.
The mathematical algorithms used by the software also have the potential to cut costs by improving the accuracy of calculations and reducing human error. Udrew used hundreds of historical test cases to test the software, and some were grossly over-engineered. One structure overspent on concrete by thousands of dollars, Sharif said.
“That structure will be there for a long time,” he joked.
Sharif said udrew was looking for more owners and builders to run pilot projects, local councils to connect to the system, and sponsors within the building industry.
“Anyone that’s interested in a young Australian tech startup within the construction industry that’s going to be a global company very soon should definitely get in touch,” Sharif said.
Ten random people
Sharif trained in Germany as an electrical engineer majoring in software development. He said this background helped him understand the landscape for a software company quickly, and assisted in applying the tool to structures other than fences.
He said it is crucial for young tech companies to connect with the right people, as the process of going from idea to commercial success is complex and multidisciplinary.
Sharif also recommended some more unusual action for aspiring startups. Before joining udrew, Sharif asked 10 “random people” whether they would buy the product for the intended price, and they said it was a “no-brainer”.
“If you ask 10 random people … that will definitely save you a lot of time and money and headaches,” he added.