Fastest Growing Companies: Giatec brings Internet of Things to concrete

Giatec's Mustafa Salehi, Pouria Ghods and Amirrreza Ghods.
Giatec's Mustafa Salehi, Pouria Ghods and Amirrreza Ghods. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

Each year, OBJ recognizes the region’s rapidly growing firms with its Fastest Growing Companies awards. The aim is to honour the city’s top performers for substantial, sustainable and profitable growth. Recipients are ranked by their three-year revenue growth. They must have had revenues of at least $100,000 in the first of those three years under consideration. Revenues must have risen to at least $500,000 in their most recent fiscal year. The companies will be profiled online in the coming days and recognized at a cocktail reception on May 24 at You.i TV headquarters in Kanata. Click here for more information on the event.

An Ottawa tech firm has shaken the foundations of the concrete and construction industries, bringing an age-old sector into the modern era with the latest developments in the Internet of Things.

Giatec Scientific develops wireless sensors for concrete testing. The company was founded in Ottawa in 2010 by Aali Alizadeh and Pouria Ghods, both of whom hold PhDs from Ottawa universities as well as being recipients of the OBJ and Ottawa Chamber of Commerce’s Forty Under 40 awards.

The founders sought to bring the advanced sciences of their academic backgrounds to the concrete industry. Back then, they started by offering high-end concrete quality tests in a lab setting, but they soon realized they’d have to bring their devices straight to the source.

“If we’re going to have a bigger impact in the construction industry, we need to touch more of the construction part,” says Ghods.

Around 2014 Giatec began embedding its sensors into concrete as it was being poured. With a device inside structures such as bridges and buildings themselves, contractors and other stakeholders could check the concrete’s stress levels, temperature, humidity and more in real time through a mobile app.

“That was kind of game-changing for us,” Ghods says.

The firm hasn’t looked back. In the past three years, Giatec has seen revenue growth of more than 450 per cent. The headcount at its Nepean headquarters stands around 30, though that’s expected to reach up to 50 by the end of the year.

Fastest Growing Companies: Giatec

Year founded: 2010
Local headcount: 30
Product or service: Wireless sensors for concrete testing
Three-year revenue growth: 456.5%
2018 ranking: #8

Giatec has seen a few minor investments over its lifetime, but Ghods says the firm has no major external investor. Instead, it has taken advantage of a series of federal and provincial government grants to fund the R&D and commercialization of its tech-intensive product portfolio.

But that focus on innovation has forced Giatec to overcome barriers. Ghods says that when the firm first started working with sensors, it faced pushback from “old-school” concrete veterans.

Today, that’s changing. A new generation accustomed to tablets and smartphones is demanding to work in industries that embrace these technologies.

Ghods says it’s gotten to the point where contractors hoping to attract younger talent are seeking to work with Giatec because of its high-tech reputation.

The demographic shift in the construction business gives Ghods confidence that the industry will accelerate its adoption of new technology. He says he and Alizadeh would feel proud to have played a part in building the new school of construction.

“It’s our passion to see, in our lifetime, that we had significant impact in the industry.”

“It’s our passion to see, in our lifetime, that we had significant impact in the industry.”

Still, the industry is just a starting point for Ghods, who says there are also applications for Giatec’s sensors in the development of smart cities. The next generations of the company’s embedded technology will feature a better battery that could match the lifespan of a structure itself.

That opens up a world of possibilities for city planners and officials. For example, Giatec’s sensors could project which bridges in a city are due for replacement or maintenance in the next five years. Not only does that allow planners to put better safety precautions in place, but staff can craft budgets that better anticipate needs rather than finding infrastructure funds at the last minute.

“That’s our vision,” Ghods says.