In recent years, Israel has made a name for itself as a high-tech power house. Thousands of start-up companies have been established, and major international firms have flocked to Israel's growing tech sector to set up local research centers.

But until recently, few of these start-ups have focused on the construction industry, a trend seen elsewhere in the world, as well. A report by global consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that the construction industry was among the last to adopt technology, largely due to its conservative nature. 

Israel’s largest construction firm, Shikun & Binui has been searching for ways to break out of this trend. In October 2015, the company launched BuildUp, an initiative that calls on local start-ups to propose ideas for bringing innovation to the construction industry. Targeted market sectors for higher-tech solutions include infrastructure projects, housing, safety and the environment, specifically water and renewables.

“We were taken by surprise by the sheer number of proposals and were approached by hundreds of start-ups at various stages of development,” says Orry Ben-Porath, vice president of sustainability at Shikun & Binui who is in charge of the initiative. He stresses that the company is not looking to invest in technology but, rather, to serve as a testing ground for new technology at its building sites in Israel.

An in-house screening process selected 40 proposals that were found to be relevant. Thirteen pilot projects with local start-ups are already in progress at its building sites in Israel, adds Ben-Porath. The start-ups view the initiative as a means of testing their ideas locally before taking them abroad.

One of the first companies to come aboard was Aqua Rimat, which developed Flowless, an algorithm and artificial intelligence solution for building-related water issues. Attached to the main intake pipe of a building site, the Flowless device monitors water usage and detects leaks and unusual water consumption. If a leak is detected, a messinging application sends an alert to the supervisor; if there is no timely response, the system automatically shuts off the water supply. Slightly larger than its counterpart in the residential and office markets, the device costs roughly $2,000.

“Flowless was initially designed for private homes and offices. But just over a year ago, the company started installing the technology at building sites,” said Or Swed, Aqua Rimat marketing director.

“We have had our fair share of water damage at building sites in recent years, and this led to our interest in Aqua Rimat’s technology,” said Ben-Porath. The device has resulted in a substantial savings for Shikun & Binui, he added. Aqua Rimat already has installed its Flowless device at seven major Shikun & Binui building sites and at other local construction-firm building sites. The company recently launched marketing efforts abroad.

Another company, Dronomy, has adapted drones to enable construction companies to monitor construction sites in real time. “We identified a real need in the construction industry that could be met with the use of drones that deliver data that is critical for accurate 3D mapping and frequent progress monitoring,” said Ori Aphek, founder and CEO of Dronomy. He claims that, unlike others in the emerging field, Dronomy’s technology allows for continuous monitoring as construction proceeds. The company has been testing its drone technology for the past nine months at Shikun & Binui building sites.  Looking to take its technology abroad, Dronomy is focusing on U.S. markets, where the company estimates a potential $1 billion annually. It plans to focus its efforts in Colorado, California and Texas, where weather conditions are somewhat similar to Israel's.

Tel Aviv-based Ridartech focuses on the digitalization of the building process, which the firm says is one of the greatest unmet needs in Israel's construction industry. The company was established by a construction project manager, an architect with CAD and CAM expertise, and a software engineer. “Our aim is to get rid of paper in construction management and replace it with tablets,” said Ran Hadary, Ridartech's CEO and founder. He estimates that the firm's construction-site communicator can dramatically reduce the 10% loss attributed to mistakes that need to be corrected. Shikun & Binui project managers now are testing the technology at four building sites. Hoping to capitalize on its work with Shikun & Binui, Ridartech plans to market the communicator in the U.S. and Europe later this year.