The population of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) remains one of the fastest growing in the world. While the growth trajectory has slowed since the early 1990s according to the World Bank, the region’s population growth rate last year was 1.7 per cent, almost double the global rate of 1 per cent. By 2050, close to 724 million people are expected to inhabit the region, up from 484 million in 2018 according to UNICEF.
As such, the demand for more housing is growing at a similarly fast pace at a time when finding affordable housing remains a persistent challenge for the majority of low and middle-income families who have been further hit by the socio-economic fallout of the Covid-19 crisis.
"There is no way traditional construction can keep up with the demand that is coming in the next 10 to 20 years,” says Bama Uraiqat, co-founder of Jordan-based construction technology startup, Konn technology. “We at Konn look to use contemporary technology in modular and offsite construction to build sustainable, affordable housing.”
Faced with an ever-increasing demand for houses, innovators around the world are constantly looking for solutions and technologies to speed up the construction of houses and make it more efficient and scalable. Solutions like 3D printing and off-site construction modules have been widely used to facilitate the home delivery process. However, the industry is still among the least-digitised sectors, constantly held back by complex manual processes, workflow challenges and information silos.
Konn serves as an asset-light, virtual platform that can perform all of the complex processes in construction in a scalable manner. It combines all the technologies that the industry utilises like the Building Information Modeling (BIM), project management software, visualisation methods, with its online configurator.
“What we do is productise homes. Users can choose from a variety of pre-designed schemes for homes with different types and sizes and configure them online. And then these homes are basically manufactured and assembled through the use of technology on land in a very, very short time,” says Uraiqat.
Konn was founded earlier this year by husband and wife duo Basma and Basel Uraiqat, who together founded interior design and architecture company, Uraiqat. It was during this venture where the idea for Konn first came about.
“It came from a real need and frustration,” says Uraiqat. “For years, we've been looking at solutions. This is not just us, this is construction in general, globally, more than 95 per cent of projects have defects; More than 90 [per cent], suffer from cost overruns, and scheduling delays. So it's almost impossible to get a project done on time and on a budget in good quality. This is an age-old problem. And we've become quite sick of it, to be honest.”
Konn currently works with more than 10 companies for material supply and a couple of construction companies. It is now in the process of developing a new solution for large-scale affordable housing development.
Since its launch, Konn has delivered eight houses and managed to raise seed and pre-Series A funding rounds.
The term contech, short for construction technology, surfaced in 2018 and has since steadily taken hold within the global tech scene, especially with US-based Ketarra closing one of the biggest investment rounds totaling $865 million back in 2018. While the Middle East is home to some of the most technologically sophisticated structures, its contech sector lags behind much of the world, with only a handful of startups in this space.
Given the relative novelty of the concept, Uraiqat explains that it was difficult to get investors to capture the nuances and complexities of its solution.
“Contech is still unfamiliar territory for investors and some tend to mix proptech [property technology] and contech. It was quite challenging for us. So we were really looking more for investors that are more willing to experiment, look for something new and want to explore a new market,” she explains.
Much like the investor community, Konn’s drive towards digitisation is often faced with reluctance and pushback from the side of manufacturers as well as home buyers, which Uraiqat describes as the company’s “hardest challenge.”
“Albeit slow, positive change is happening. There’s still a lot that needs to be done. With more companies like us popping up here and there, I think this will become easier because you will find people who have familiarity with it,” she concludes.