Trendspek uses drones to capture unlimited 360-degree images of high-value assets. Now the three Australian pilots who came up with the idea are selling it to the world.
Twenty years ago, as bush pilots, Mitch Deam MAICD, Derek Feebrey and Fiona Church shared a house in the Northern Territory. In between flying judges, doctors and First Nations school students across vast swathes of desert, they began discussing possible business ideas while sitting around the kitchen table. Feebrey and Church would go on to spend more than a decade as Qantas pilots, while Deam flew aircraft for Virgin Australia.
In 2013, the trio set up one of Australia’s first drone service companies. Hoverscape undertook aerial inspections of industrial infrastructure using photographs captured by drones, which at that time required a pilot’s licence to operate. As clients began to ask for inspections of larger and more complicated structures, the trio realised that photographs alone lacked context and were difficult to interpret. “We looked for a software solution that would meet our client’s needs,” says Church. “It didn’t exist anywhere in the world, so we decided to build it ourselves.”
Since Trendspek launched in 2018, it has grown fourfold every year. It uses precision reality twin (PRT) technology to create interactive 3D condition reports, which are mostly conducted on commercial and industrial property and infrastructure assets. The company’s digital models and 3D interactive reports are used for investigation, remediation and planning. While engineers are some of Trendspek’s biggest end users, no specialised technical skills are needed to create or view a report.
“It can be used by anyone, from boardroom to toolbox, and has a broad functionality range,” says CEO Feebrey. “You can fly around your warehouse or high-rise building like Superman, looking at it exactly as it is.”
Trendspek uses robotics to capture imagery that is processed into what is called a “precision reality twin”. The hundreds of thousands of data points captured by the drones enable unlimited 360-degree inspection around an asset. The Trendspek technology has a distinct edge on most traditional solutions, which tend to be cumbersome, costly, occasionally dangerous and often less accurate.
“The precision reality twin is an exact digital replica,” says Deam, a director of Trendspek. “It is accurate within millimetres — you can see the thickness of paint flaking off a downpipe. And it can be accessed by any stakeholder, anywhere in the world.”
Last November, Trendspek raised $6.3m in its Series A round, which was led by Taronga Ventures. The real asset technology investment fund was attracted by the idea of a wholly digital representation of assets.
“The digital twin space is the ultimate nirvana of what property groups are currently seeking,” says Taronga Ventures co-founder and managing partner Jonathan Hannam. “While we’re not an impact fund, one of our major focuses is on delivering resilience investment into technology that is addressing environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges in real assets. With climate tech now a major focus, we know there will be more and more severe weather events — tropical cyclones, flooding — and these will have a greater impact on real estate and infrastructure assets. Trendspek’s technology allows owners and managers to quickly assess whether there’s been any damage to an asset after an event — and does so in a safe and cost-effective manner.”
With structural defects continuing to plague the real estate and construction sector, Taronga Ventures is eager to back the right solutions that can lead to improvements in construction quality. In 2020, it invested in San Francisco company OpenSpace, which carries out internal infrastructure assessments using off-the-shelf 360-degree cameras, which allow a direct comparison to building information modelling (BIM) software. Hannam says OpenSpace complements Trendspek’s external capabilities.
“We’re also very pleased that two of our investors — CBRE and PGIM Real Estate — are already key customers of Trendspek, with many others now in the final stages of appointment,” he adds. “As a collaborative corporate venture fund, when you start to get some of your major investors actually using and supporting the technology, it makes for a much easier investment decision.”
“Taronga Ventures is a perfect partner for us because we share an aligned vision,” says Church. “A lot of our clients are also investors in Taronga Ventures. It has a big focus on ESG and Trendspek enables much better ‘G’ for governance. That is because we replace a written, subjective report with one that is evidence-based and covers an entire structure. Our clients can quickly identify and prioritise risk. That is what underpins everything we do.”
At a glance
Revenue growth year on year since 2018
Countries where Trendspek has clients (owners and engineers)
Countries where Trendspek’s services/products are used (subject matter experts and stakeholders)
People employed by Trendspek
Trendspek first came to Taronga Ventures’ attention when it participated in the VC’s RealTechX innovation program in 2021.
“We saw that there was a lot of interest from our partners and investors in their solution,” says Hannam. “There are not many examples of a technology that gets so much interest so quickly. In 2021, we had around 220 companies apply to take part in the program, and Trendspek was a standout, even then.”
He expects to see major growth at Trendspek in coming years, noting that insurance groups are showing strong interest and other investors are using the technology to conduct due diligence prior to acquisitions.
Hannam recalls how Trendspek’s founders recently gave a demonstration of their technology to superannuation fund Qantas Super, which is also a Taronga Ventures investor.
“There was this beautiful synergy where these former Qantas pilots were presenting to the Qantas employees at the corporate HQ at Mascot, Sydney, and the level of interest was incredible,” he says. “It is a solution that everybody just really gets — and a great Australian story.”
Better governance and risk mitigation is the major drawcard for companies that own high-value, revenue-generating assets.
Trendspek’s clients include the Port Authority of New South Wales and the University of Sydney. The latter’s 190-plus campus buildings were previously inspected manually, the process typically taking one to two years. The end result was a static written report that could be hard for asset owners to decipher. In contrast, Trendspek can deliver its report of the university within 50 days and the average cost is around a third of the total of traditional methods.
“People are doing inspections of offshore oil rigs from the couch, in the time between dropping their kids off at school and picking them up in the afternoon,” says Feebrey. “That would usually take them two weeks out on the rig in dangerous conditions.”
Over time, Trendspek’s inspections are layered to reveal forecast trends. Remedial action can be taken predictively, rather than reactively. Another plus is that the inspection covers the entire asset. This significantly increases the accuracy of a report and reduces the risk of missing critical issues.
“It is too cost-prohibitive to crawl over an entire bridge,” says Church. “Instead, a small sample size is used to extrapolate a guess about what the rest of the bridge might look like. Now you can see 100 per cent of that structure very quickly. It provides absolute knowledge as opposed to a best guess.”
Let the tech speak for itself
Trendspek’s software encompasses the entire workflow process of inspection, reporting, tendering and monitoring. Its biggest rival in the market has been the status quo, as it is a radical departure from the way inspections have been conducted until recently.
“Many people have spent the past 30 or 40 years doing things in a certain way,” says Church. “We’re literally taking people from paper, rope and clipboard to a full digital environment. It is a big technology shift.”
Key to Trendspek’s ability to persuade new clients to get on board is a well-defined plan of what success entails.
“We never do a full rollout within an organisation until we’ve done a pilot and validated it on one of their own assets,” says Deam. “We know that even if we were to show a client all the properties in the world that Trendspek assesses, it will not click in someone’s mind until our technology has picked up a defect in an asset that they are responsible for.”
He notes that Trendspek is also careful to avoid spruiking the capabilities of its own technology, rather than demonstrating the value that it can provide to the client.
As founders, the trio are in daily contact and each brings a different, complementary value to the business.
“Mitch brings a lot of strengths around cybersecurity compliance,” says Church. “He has obtained all our ISO certifications, which was no small feat. We are working with large corporations worldwide, so the safety and security of their data is paramount. Derek and I are quite different. I’m strategic and operate more behind the scenes, whereas Derek is very good at doing presentations and influencing people about what the technology can do. Being the CEO lends itself to that.”
Feebrey believes that their years in the aviation industry have given them transferable skills that have been useful during the ups and downs of founding a tech company. “We never stew on anything,” he says. “If something breaks or something bad happens, we straight away ask, how do we fix it and how do we prevent it from happening again?”
Trendspek already has an international presence across the UK, US and Europe, and its future focus is on further expansion. “Our plan is to keep building on being the global solution for the largest asset owners and operators — helping them reduce risk and optimise the performance of their assets,” says Deam.
This article first appeared under the headline ‘Without A Shadow Of A Doubt’ in the June 2023 issue of Company Director magazine.
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