08/11/2018 - 10:33

Building platform tops award winners

08/11/2018 - 10:33

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Tom Young says interest in his udrew interactive building approvals system - the overall winner of the Mitsubishi Western Australia Innovator of the Year award - is growing ahead of its market launch early next year.

Tom Young says udrew speeds up the approvals process. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Tom Young says interest in his udrew interactive building approvals system is growing ahead of its market launch early next year.

The overall winner of the Mitsubishi Western Australia Innovator of the Year award, the platform allows users to submit accurate construction plans to local councils, to expedite approvals.

The idea emerged in 2003 following a conversation with a work colleague.

“I was working in the building industry and my best friend was in charge of doing quotes for smaller things,” Mr Young told Business News.

“He was late for lunch, so he charged $900 for this thing he just printed out, and changed the address on.

“That always resonated with me … why are they paying $900 when we just pressed ‘print’?”

Half a decade later, a personal experience once again unearthed the issue, inspiring Mr Young to take action.

“In 2008 I was on the other side of the fence, pardon the pun; I was doing some home renovations and I forgot to put the plans in for the fence,” he said.

“I was a former draftsman so I was able to draw up plans straight away, get them signed off within an hour, and have them in to council that afternoon.

However, the subsequent approval took seven and a half months.

When Mr Young finally received the go-ahead for the structure, he noticed the council had made a spelling error in the document.

Concerned about legitimate documentation, he informed them of the error, and was told to halt works immediately.

“It took another two and a half months for them to put the letter ‘u’ in ‘fourth’,” Mr Young said.

“Nine and a half months it took, just to get approval for a fence.

“I just wanted a fence.”

Deciding to combine the potential of satellite imagery with his geospacial expertise, Mr Young began a decade-long process of data collection.

He taught himself basic coding and created a beta system in 2016.

Since that time, udrew has grown from a bootstrapped startup to a company on the verge of launching to market, with governments across Australia and New Zealand keen to get on board.

The business has raised close to $560,000 this year, and now employs seven staff.

Mr Young said local governments in Australia were forecast to save upwards of $250 million per year in resources, in addition to an expected increase in submissions, due to the simplicity of the udrew process.

The premise, he said, was to get savings to the person building.

“Usually you’d pay $1,500 to $4,500 for a set of building plans,” Mr Young told Business News.

“With the udrew system, that’s looking at about $500 and it includes a full list of materials and estimates.”

Pilot council

Mr Young is currently working with the City of Wanneroo to roll-out a trial of udrew in early 2019.

He said the council’s response to the innovation had been phenomenal, and he had high hopes for this crucial testing stage of udrew.

“It’s just about getting the first (trial) out, although I’m not going to know fully until I do the second region,” Mr Young said.

“In theory it’s 99 per cent doable.

“That’s the scientist in me coming out; I need to know the numbers, but it’s looking very promising.”

Mr Young said that, across Australia and New Zealand, he had found building regulations were very similar, usually differing only in visual elements.

Regulations in the US were also similar, he said, but the approval process often took significantly longer and cost much more.

“There are about 10 other councils we’re in talks with,” Mr Young told Business News.

“Everyone is basically waiting for us to go live with Wanneroo.

“We’re in talks with the NSW government and the Queensland government, and we’re just starting talks with New Zealand.”

Despite the expansion that Mr Young expects to continue, he hopes to keep the business in his home base of Perth.

“As we do expand I’d like to keep it here, and make Perth a bit of a tech hub,” he said.

“It sounds cheesy, but for me it’s very much about fixing the home grown problem.”

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