“I’ve always dealt with systems that are real complex, but Field2base approaches a guy who may never have touched a computer in his life. It’s interesting to see how you take the technology from one world to another one.” – Entrepreneur Ed White
_____________________________________________________________________As an angel investor, Ed White looks at a lot of company prospectuses, but the one for Field2base jumped out at him in the fall of 2002.
“I was in the middle of constructing an office building in Morrisville and had a crunch with the weather,” White says. “We had a really tight schedule. It rained like hell for about seven days a week all that fall and most of the winter and time is money when you’re putting up a building you sink $8 to $10 million bucks into.”
About that time, a neighbor of White’s, David Lea, chief executive of Field2base, knew White had created a successful software company and was in commercial real estate development. “I had kind of a unique blend of experience,” White says. “He was looking for potential funding.”
White started Utility Translation Systems (UTS) in 1980, a software company that supplied complex systems to electric utilities for measuring energy use by large power customers. He sold UTS to Itron (Nasdaq:ITRI) of Spokane, Washington in 1996. He was chairman of the board of Itron for a number of years and remains a board member.
White also started buying real estate during the 1980s, acquiring about 500 acres in Morrisville. It included a 270-acre track he decided to develop as Town Hall Commons, which will include 530 homes and a million square feet of office and retail space.
Field2base came along just as White was battling in his own construction problems at Towne Hall Commons.
Field2base had created a software and hardware system to save time on construction projects.
The system uses tablet PCs with a camera to help construction project managers adapt to mistakes in blueprints or necessary changes in construction plans on-site. The tablet PCs provide access to blueprints and the ability to draw on or annotate them. It also contacts off-site supervisors, sub-contractors and suppliers as necessary.
“I’ve always dealt with systems that are real complex,” White says, “but Field2base approaches a guy who may never have touched a computer in his life. It’s interesting to see how you take the technology from one world to another one.”
He points out, Field2base gives the on-site manager a device that has no keyboard. “It’s amazing, you touch a couple of icons with a stylus and you’re up and running.”
Doing it all
White did his due diligence before putting up any money. “I looked at it for several months before I invested,” White says. “But building multi-million projects, I could see how as a user it could really save time and money out there. It also documents everything.” That comes in handy, White says, “because once you put the walls up you can’t see where welds are or anything else.”
White says he has done a couple of angel-level funding rounds for Field2base. Typical angel funding aimed at getting the company through product development – which in this case includes a pilot program with a company in Richmond, VA – is about $1 million,” White says.
White plans to get Field2base to positive cash flow without seeking outside venture capital.
“I’ve allocated funds for the next level and will provide funds to get to a cash flow basis when they launch the product. All the research and development is behind us. Most of the funds will go toward staffing.”
White says the five-person company should expand to 15 or 16 over the next six months in sales, marketing, tech support, training, and accounting and human resources.
White points out that numerous software companies have marketed products to the construction world. “But it’s all been in the back office,” he says. “No one has really gone after the folks standing out in a field trying to construct a building.”
BuildNet, for instance, a company that landed a record-setting $107 million funding in 2000 but later “instead of taking one little piece and being great at it, took on the entire construction universe and just couldn’t make it work. Of course they hit the market at the wrong time, too.”
White says he invests from $100,000 and up in a variety of projects, including real estate. “The appeal of getting involved in a start-up company connected to things I’m involved in was exciting in addition to the financial possibilities. I can bring something besides just money to the deal,” he explains.
“From a technical standpoint, these guys are unbelievable, but I can help them from a marketing standpoint.”