Giatec Scientific warming to the challenge of building a greener concrete industry

Giatech co-founders
Giatec Scientific co-founders Rouhollah Alizadeh (left) and Pouria Ghods. File photo

Pouria Ghods and his colleagues at Giatec Scientific aren’t just paying lip service to fighting climate change ​– they have a concrete plan of action.

One of Ottawa’s hottest tech startups, Giatec specializes in developing wireless sensors that measure the quality and consistency of concrete during the construction process and beyond.

Founded just over a decade ago, the company has evolved into a global leader in its field. Giatec appeared on OBJ’s list of fastest-growing companies three years ago, and last fall it finished in the top 100 on Canadian Business magazine’s prestigious Growth List with five-year revenue growth of nearly 1,400 per cent.

Now, the engineering whizzes at Giatec have turned their attention to tackling one of the planet’s most pressing problems: global warming. 

They’ve created a new web-based dashboard called SmartMix that uses AI algorithms to help concrete producers calculate the ideal amount of cement and chemical additives in their mixes in an effort to cut down on material costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our mandate here is (within) three to five years to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of concrete,” says Ghods, the company’s co-founder and CEO.

"Our mandate here is (within) three to five years to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of concrete."

For centuries the backbone of construction projects from Rome’s Pantheon to the Sydney Opera House, concrete is also one of the planet’s most notorious sources of greenhouse gases.

Among the most widely used manmade materials in existence, concrete now accounts for eight per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to U.K.-based think-tank Chatham House. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter of the gas, after China and the U.S.

But Ghods insists it doesn’t have to be this way. His company spent three years and millions of dollars on R&D to create SmartMix, incorporating data from nearly two dozen industry partners, including leading producer U.S. Concrete and Ottawa-based construction firm Tomlinson.

The result is a product he believes will “revolutionize the concrete industry” by making production both cheaper and more energy-efficient. 

Giatec, which has seen its technology embedded in more than 7,500 construction projects in 45 countries, launched the platform this week and expects to roll it out worldwide over the next year.

The company’s efforts to commercialize SmartMix received another boost last week when the federal government announced it was investing an additional $1.1 million in the firm. That’s on top of $2.4 million the feds previously awarded to Giatec to help it develop its AI technology.

Although its international sales took a hit during the pandemic as the construction industry slowed to a crawl in parts of Latin America, South America, India and Europe, Giatec’s revenues in Canada and the United States – which account for about two-thirds of its overall sales – have continued to grow over the past 12 months, Ghods says.

The CEO is projecting sales growth of at least 50 per cent in 2021, but as more people get vaccinated and the economy picks up, “another wave of construction projects” could bump up that estimate, he adds.

Hiring spree

“Hopefully by summer, the situation will be more stable and we’ll see more light at the end of the tunnel,” Ghods says.

In the meantime, Giatec’s 60-person team keeps expanding as it brings more engineers and sales staff on board. The firm is currently trying to fill 10 open positions – not an easy task in today’s “hot” job market, Ghods admits.

“We are fighting to find good people to join our team,” he says, echoing a familiar refrain among Ottawa tech leaders.

While Ghods says Giatec’s cash flow remains “relatively healthy,” he’s eyeing potential partnerships with agencies such as the Business Development of Canada as a means of securing fresh equity. A VC funding round is also a possibility down the road, he adds.

“If it’s the right partner, we are open to those opportunities,” Ghods says.