What if the information superhighway was an actual highway?
Imagine driving down the highway, blasting your favorite music, feeling the wind in your hair, when suddenly the road speaks to you via your mobile device. “Hey, slow down, an accident just happened a mile ahead, and the roads are slick.” Fiction? Not really, thanks to the smart roads that Integrated Roadways is aiming to build. Their Smart Pavement technology contains a bevy of sensors and other tech, including cellular tower technology. In addition to providing data to cities and drivers, that allows the smart roads to extend cellular networks, making them attractive investments for network providers. Given the Smart Highways market will reach $32b in 2020, it’s a reality that’s just around the corner. Techweek’s Prab Kumar sat down with Integrated Roadways’ President Tim Sylvester to learn more.
- Prab: Tell us a little about your company today.Tim: Integrated Roadways makes roads pay for themselves by turning them into digital corridors for connected mobility. We transform roads from a massive expense and liability into a self-funding platform for Smart Cities, IoT, 5G cellular, and connected, electric, and autonomous vehicles.
- Prab: What is the hair on fire problem you address?Tim: 40% of American roads need to be rebuilt, but there’s no funding for improvements, representing a $4T backlog that grows by >$80b per year.
- Prab: How did you discover this problem and why did you tackle it?Tim: That roads are crap is a well known problem – look around. We recognized it as a huge opportunity to transform roads from a public liability into a public asset, while promoting more efficient, safe, and convenient emerging mobility options.
- Prab: What’s the size of the problem? How big is this industry?Tim: Roads are one of the largest industries in every developed nation. Everyone uses roads every single day, our entire economy depends on them. There are 2,000,000 lane-miles of American road that need immediate improvement at an average cost of $2m, or $4T.
- Prab: What are the important trends that will shake up this industry? What will the industry look like in 5 or 10 years?Tim: Smart Cities, IoT, 5G, connected, electric, and autonomous vehicles are all emerging mega-trends for public right-of-way. In 10 years, roads won’t “just be roads”, they will be sensor, data, and connectivity corridors for next-generation mobility.
- Prab: How crowded is the space? What’s your competitive advantage behind your product or service that you believe makes it a winner?Tim: This is one of the oldest markets in the world, and it is enormous, but extremely stagnant. Our advantage is that we have a fresh take on roads, using proven technologies packaged in a new way. Since we make roads pay for themselves, we can do enormous deals at no cost to the public.
- Prab: Who are your customers and how do you make money?Tim: Our customers are municipalities who need road improvements. We make money by selling our Smart Pavement products to the construction companies that will build the roads. We give away the improvements but make money from selling the products, and that is where our magic happens.
- Prab: How do you attract customers, and how well has it gone? How did you acquire your first customer?Tim: We attract customers by focusing on their need to improve roads but inability to afford it. We emphasize the “shiny object” of sensors, data, and connectivity, and getting a new road too is icing on the cake. Often customers start with one specific need – data for safety improvements, for example – and later realize that if the roads pay for themselves, they can tackle projects that have been on the back-burner for decades.
- Prab: Tell us about raising capital – have you raised? What was the experience like? What did you learn?Tim: Typical funding sources – Angels and VCs – have immense skepticism about physical goods and government sales. So far we have been funded through bootstrapping and friends & family investment. We strongly believe this will be a “I can’t believe we missed the boat” story that changes investors minds about the value of physical goods. After all, we all have bodies, nobody eats software, and nobody lives in a computer. Yet.
- Prab: Tell us about you – why are you the perfect CEO for this company?Tim: I grew up on the internet, but coming from a rural area there was no technology work available so I worked in construction. I learned the transformative value of IT, and the fundamental value of building physical things.
- Prab: How many people are employed by you today? Are you hiring – if so who should apply?Tim: We have a team of 10 but only one full-time employee. We expect to be hiring in the next year.
- Prab: Nice! Three words to describe the company culture?Tim: Transformative, respectful, and insightful.
- Prab: What would be your company’s mascot?Tim: A coral polyp – a fragile, beautiful, creature that forms coral reefs and can be wiped out by minor climate change, but whose skeletons form the concrete that we construct our strongest roads and buildings out of. Time and pressure transform something fragile into into something enduring.
- Prab: Best answer so far. Thanks Tim!