The Franklin-based HVAC, plumbing and electrical business Lee Company wants to support startups to speed up innovation in the industry.
A group of six companies, including Lee, is asking startups to present their ideas to improve the facilities maintenance industry. Those companies, known collectively as Contractor Innovation Group, plan to work together with the startups to help them develop technologies that will move the industry forward.
CEO Richard Perko said Lee Company, along with the peer businesses in this group, would allow startups to “open the hood,” learning exactly how the businesses operates. Perko hopes that will help startups create tools tailored specifically to the facilities maintenance industry.
Companies like Lee would benefit because they get to use the new technologies.
"We're in an industry that's been slow to have technology come to us," Perko said. "When it has it's often been something off the shelf from manufacturing that they're trying to orient towards our industry and that doesn't often work well.”
Lee has already carried out this type of project before. It started working with the Nashville based startup XOi in 2013. In 2016, XOi rolled out software that allows technicians to use smart glasses or a smart phone to video call supervisors when they encounter a problem at a job site.
The technology also allows technicians to quickly search for information about a product using a serial number.
Lee Company now uses that product, but Perko said the company only formed that relationship because both businesses are the Nashville area and happened to connect. He hopes a more intentional approach will yield new ideas even faster.
“I'll let them come in and work with my people directly. … It can be your toolbox to figure out how to orient your product to what we do,” he said. “What we usually have is a technology company that thinks they have something great ... but that's really not how we do business or how it works.”
In addition to getting under-the-hood access to the company’s operations, Perko also said startups associated with the program will likely have an easier time attracting investment. He said the project could boost their credibility and will also give them a chance to connect with new funders. He said the companies are open to funding some ideas directly.
Startups can can submit an application to participate in the program through a Contractor Innovation Group website. Perko said the Contractor Innovation Group is hoping to find two ideas to develop. If the project is successful, he said there’s a good chance he’ll eventually want to repeat the process.