Within the next five years, Frankel believes that the technology they are using will evolve even more, perhaps to include holographic 3D models of homes they hope to build for their clients. Getty Images

For Frankel Building Group, the evolution of technology in the real estate and construction world was the next logical step in creating a sustainable and viable company. By incorporating technology into its client-based custom design and build firm through the use of a personal app and 3D renderings, co-president and principal Scott Frankel said Frankel Building Group is years ahead of the rest of the competition.

Frankel, who runs the company alongside his brother Kevin, described it as "a responsibility to do better and to show more."

"Our company, when I got here, was politely a little bit in the stone ages," Scott Frankel tells InnovationMap. "In order to be a customer facing business, and in order to compete in the market, we have learned to be a very technology-forward business. I would say out of every custom builder in the country, we are probably the most technology-reliant builder out there. That's a good thing."

The building group, which was started by 30 years ago by Scott and Kevin's father Jim, uses technology in every aspect of its projects.

Five to 10 years ago, builders would have to import designs into AutoCAD, a software that allows builders, engineers and architects to see their drawings in 3D form. Those AutoCAD drawings would then be printed and given to the homebuyer.

At Frankel Building Group, clients are able to login to an online portal that allows them to see every communication between them and the Frankel team, as well as building plans, updates, and digital 3D renderings of their homes. Everything from estimates to the latest updates from their assigned project manager are available to homebuyers from their phone.

"Our clients want that access," Frankel said. "If they don't get that access, they are going to be left with more questions than answers."

Frankel believes that they are only doing what the clients expect from a custom homebuilder: increasing communication through every means possible to make sure the client is satisfied with what the builder is doing.

"My brother and I are not huge technology guys," Frankel said. "We didn't come from this as framers who became custom builders. We came from a family that built custom homes and (using technology) only makes logical sense because it's something that makes it better. It's kind of like when you're banking with Chase and they came out with online banking — it just makes it better."

Within the next five years, Frankel believes that the technology they are using will evolve even more, perhaps to include holographic 3D models of homes they hope to build for their clients.

But, for now, Frankel Building Group is focused on growing their business one day at a time.

"Our focus is people in Houston who want to design and build that home for them on their property," Frankel said. "We just want to make sure we're putting the best product out there."

A 3-D printed home could be built in 48 hours for only $10,000. Photo courtesy of ICON Build

Texas startup receives $9M to build affordable 3-D printed houses

High-tech homes

In the not-too-distant future, a Texas company's 3-D printed homes will be popping up across the world for a fraction of the cost of traditional homes.

"It's our mission at ICON to reimagine the approach to homebuilding and construction and make affordable, dignified housing available to everyone throughout the world," says Jason Ballard, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based ICON LLC. "We're in the middle of a global housing crisis, and making old approaches a little better is not solving the problem."

The 3-D printed homes startup just raked in $9 million in seed funding from a host of investors, including Fort Worth-based homebuilding giant D.R. Horton; Vulcan Capital, a Seattle investment firm launched by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, who died October 15; Austin startup accelerator Capital Factory; Austin real estate developer Cielo Property Group; and San Francisco venture capital firm Oakhouse Partners, which is the lead investor.

At this point, ICON executives aren't sure when their homes will be popping up around town. However, Ballard tells CultureMap, "serious conversations" are underway about bringing these homes to Austin and other places around the world.

In March, ICON reaped tons of press when it unveiled a 350-square-foot 3-D home at SXSW — the first home of its kind to receive a construction permit in the U.S. At the time, ICON executives said the home — constructed of concrete and printed in less than 48 hours by 3-D printing robots — cost less than $10,000. By contrast, the median price in September 2018 of a single-family home in the Austin metro area was $302,250.

ICON's first batch of homes is planned for a project in impoverished El Salvador that's being developed in conjunction with New Story, a San Francisco nonprofit that seeks to eradicate homelessness. The first homes there are scheduled to be printed next year.

ICON is targeting a per-home cost of $4,000 in El Salvador. Relying on technology upgrades, ICON hopes to create each 3-D home in less than 24 hours.

"While prices to print homes will vary from country to country and state to state," Ballard says, "the big takeaway is that downloading and printing a home has the potential to cost half of standard construction costs."

Homes at the development in El Salvador will measure 600 to 800 square feet — around the size of a typical one-bedroom apartment. Eventually, ICON aims to print homes in the 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot range.

Among the advantages of 3-D printed homes cited by ICON are:

  • Speedy construction
  • No manual labor
  • Little generation of leftover construction materials
  • "Tremendous" design freedom

There's a positive environmental impact with this construction process as well.

"Conventional construction is slow, fragmented, wasteful, and has poor thermal properties that increase energy use, increase operating costs, and decrease comfort," Ballard says. "Also, conventional materials like drywall and particleboard are some of the least resilient materials ever invented."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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Houston unicorn fintech company launches new B2B education platform

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Houston-based HighRadius — which recently hit $1 billion valuation, reaching unicorn status — has launched a new learning platform.

Highako Academy by HighRadius, launched the platform to help credit and collections teams build certain skills faster. Highako features over 650 expert-led videos, community forums, and resources. The new on-the-job training platform, which announced its launch this week, is used by more than 2,800 companies, according to a press release.

"Our customers have asked us for an online self-service learning platform, and that led us to launch highako.com as a beta platform last year," says HighRadius COO Urvish Vashi in the release. "With 10,000+ users on the platform and a vibrant partner ecosystem consisting of credit groups, collection agencies, attorneys and industry associations, we see this echoing a larger trend of millennials and Gen Z gravitating towards microlearning platforms."

In honor of the launch of Highako Academy, the organization has announced plans for Credit SkillCon '21, a lunch-and-learn event from June 16 to July 20. The 53 live workshops, panel discussions, and on-demand sessions will focus on topics including negotiations, credit risk assessment, bankruptcy litigation, collections strategy and more. .

"We continually hear from members about wanting more and different educational options," says Jon Flora, president and CEO of NACM Business Credit Service. "The last year has changed much about how we answer this call, and now we have a solution. We are the first NACM affiliate to partner with Highako Academy."

HighRadius and its AI-powered SaaS technology, which streamlines accounts-receivable and cash-management processes, are growing fast. The company, which processes over $2.23 trillion in receivables transactions annually, per the release, raised $300 million in March. At the time of that raise, HighRadius, founded in 2006, employed more than 1,000 people around the world — and was hiring.

"Our goal has always been to build a long-lasting business that outlasts all of us," Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, said in the news release. "I look forward to working with [our] high-quality, long-term investors, who share a common vision of transforming the office of the CFO using a combination of artificial intelligence built on top of connected-finance workspaces and embedded analytics."

Autonomous delivery company joins forces with FedEx for new pilot in Houston

self-driving mail

A tech company with self-driving robots deployed across Houston delivering pizza, groceries, and more has yet again launched a new pilot program — this time focused on parcel delivery.

Nuro and FedEx announced a new partnership to deploy Nuro's technology for last-mile delivery at a large scale with FedEx.

"FedEx was built on innovation, and it continues to be an integral part of our culture and business strategy," says Rebecca Yeung, vice president of advanced technology and innovation at FedEx, in a news release. "We are excited to collaborate with an industry leader like Nuro as we continue to explore the use of autonomous technologies within our operations."

The new pilot, which began in April, according to the release, is the latest in the FedEx portfolio of autonomous same-day and specialty delivery devices. The partnership allows for FedEx to be able to explore various use cases for autonomous vehicle logistics, like multi-stop and appointment-based deliveries. Meanwhile for Nuro, it's the company's first expansion into parcel logistics.

"Working with FedEx—the global leader in logistics—is an incredible opportunity to rethink every aspect of local delivery. This multi-year commitment will allow us to truly collaborate and bring Nuro's powerful technology to more people in new ways, and eventually reach large-scale deployment," says Cosimo Leipold, Nuro's head of partnerships, in the release. "Our collaboration will enable innovative, industry-first product offerings that will better everyday life and help make communities safer and greener."

California-based Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched last summer. The most recent pilot program — pizza delivery with Domino's — officially went live in Woodland Heights earlier this year.

Nuro's expansion in Houston has a lot to do with the legislation that's happening at the state level. Last year, Nuro was granted its exemption petition from the United States Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This move is a first for DOT, and it allowed Nuro to roll out its vehicles on public roads without the features of traditional, passenger-carrying vehicles — like side mirrors or windshields, for instance.

The city also just offers a lot of opportunities to try out various neighborhoods and environments.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Nuro Product Operations Manager Sola Lawal says an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

Lessons in prototyping: Figuring out the best type of prototype

guest article

As you continue your journey of developing and bringing a new product to the market, you have a series of decisions to make when it comes to prototyping — whether you're going to launch a hardware or a software product, or the combination of both — you need to have a prototype made.

Before you begin, there are a number of things to consider. In an article for InnovationMap last week, I looked at major choice points and their implications that will help you navigate the process in the most efficient way.

After you successfully laid the foundation for the development process and got you CAD models ready, you arrive at the next choice. Prior to making a prototype of your invention you need to decide what type of prototype you're going to build. Whether you're making it yourself or hiring a rapid prototyping company, you need to know the purpose your prototype will fulfil because it will help to select proper methods, techniques, and materials for building. With that in mind, let's go through the types of prototypes and purposes behind building them.

Types of Prototypes

Mockup

This type is usually used as a simple representation of your product idea, to gauge physical dimensions and see its rough look. It's especially useful for making physical models of complex and large products without investing a significant amount from the start. Mockup is perfect for initial market research and various types of early testing.

Proof of concept

This type of prototype is built when you need to validate your idea and prove that it can be realized. It comes in handy when approaching potential partners and investors.

Functional prototype

This kind of prototype is also called a "looks- and works-like" model because it has both technical and visual features of the product presented. It is used for testing product's functionality, conducting consumer surveys, and fundraising campaigns.

Pre-production prototype

This is the most complex type that is made at the latest stage of product development. It's used for ergonomics, manufacturability, and material testing, as well as to minimize risks of defects during manufacturing. This is a model that manufacturers use to produce the final product.

Choosing to Partner with Prototyping Company

It's important to note that prototyping is an iterative process. It is a fusion of art and science that helps you to uncover the full potential of your product, which in turn increases its chances for market success. Therefore, you will likely go through several types of prototypes, with each kind usually requiring a few versions to achieve the parameters you set for the model.

And this process also requires help of a company that builds prototypes or of a professional product development team. You can start looking for the one after you made your first mockup or proof of concept. It is recommended because creating more complex prototypes implies the use of sophisticated equipment, sourcing of materials and components that could be too expensive or complicated to do without an established network of suppliers. Plus, skills and experience play a huge role in creating quality prototypes. Taking all three factors – equipment, experience and skills - into account, it's smart to outsource your prototyping needs to a professional company.

This article is a follow up article to my post from last week. I have also previously contributed to guest columns on the following:

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Onega Ulanova is the founder of OKGlobal.