Developer Adrian Washington's New Project: A Startup That Seeks To Disrupt Construction From The Bottom Up
Adrian Washington is tired of staring at holes.
The founder and longtime CEO of Neighborhood Development Co., Washington has spent over two decades building urban infill projects across Washington, D.C., but he said at each project, he finds himself encountering the same frustration.
"There's a sort of old saying, in development that it takes you forever to get out of the ground, but once you get out, then things start really moving," Washington said. "And I've always said to people, 'Well, why is it taking so long to get out?'"
Washington said in all the time he's worked in real estate, the techniques used to construct the below-grade portion of large buildings have remained basically unchanged. He called the below-grade podium stage of construction a "backwater" for innovation in the industry.
To change that, Washington founded Platform last year, a new company that intends to become a one-stop shop for subterranean construction, a stage that he said can take up to 40% of the time it takes to build a typical project.
After raising seed capital last year, Platform is preparing for a Series A funding round — which Washington said he expects to close by the end of 2022 — to bring his vision for the future of the construction industry not just to the D.C. region, but to the whole country.
"Our goal is to disrupt the $1.3 trillion construction/real estate development industry," Washington said.
To get there, Washington wants to bring every portion of the below-grade construction process under Platform, eliminating the need for subcontractors, outside engineers and consultants, and the additional legal and labor fees that all those players bring to the table.
Platform would handle pouring concrete, excavating, sheeting, bringing utilities on-site and more. He also hopes to introduce new technologies along the way, including using geothermal energy.
"You've got a bunch of competing, non-cooperating, non-synergistic players involved, as opposed to what we're offering, which is a one-stop shop," Washington said. "It gives you specifications. We deliver a platform, we do the engineering, we do the architecture, we do the actual physical hard costs, we coordinate it all, we assume the risk and we go to one contract and at one price."
Washington is already piloting the new process at NDC sites around the city. Platform’s work is already in the ground at 218 Cedar St. NW and at 3450 Eads St. NE, an affordable housing project where Platform is planning to install geothermal energy.
At NDC's largest project to date, the 421-unit mixed-use site at St. Elizabeths East, Platform is also on the site for NDC to keep construction moving quickly and efficiently.
"It is the biggest project that we've done, but surprisingly, the issues that we've found there are exactly the same as we've had in smaller projects over the years," Washington said. "It's just a bigger dollar amount."
Platform is not the first construction startup promising to reinvent the industry with new systems or technology. But Washington said Platform differs in that it is focusing on the podium, rather than the vertical portion of large projects.
He said at least one general contractor he’s spoken with is “thrilled” that Platform takes the podium portion of construction off their hands. He said he has already been in conversations with a modular developer to jointly bid on new projects.
"All of those new construction technology companies, they all are looking to do the platform portion the same way," Washington said. “If you talk with them and you ask them, they'll tell you about all the cool things they can do and they deliver modules and it goes up in a week and you ask, 'Well, how do you do the platform part?' 'Oh, well, we just have the GC do it the same way that it's always done.'”
Washington said he doesn't plan to move on from NDC, and is instead leaning on the team he's built at the development company to take on more day-to-day management as he leads Platform simultaneously.
He founded the company and immediately hired Alex Shewchuk, who has previous experience at National Trust Community Investment Corp. and formerly owned a development company, as chief operating officer. Washington said he hopes to have a team of at least 10 by the end of the year.
Washington also plans to lean on the advisory board at Platform, which includes PGN Architects partner Sean Pichon, DC Community Ventures co-founder Karim Zia and Waste Acquisition Group CEO Bill Keating, for guidance.
Despite having experience building a company from scratch, Washington said it wasn't the entrepreneurial bug that pushed him to start Platform, but frustration and a desire to change something that's been static for too long.
"It was just sort of staring, literally staring, at these holes year after year and just feeling like there had to be a better way, that I had an idea for a better mousetrap," Washington said. "It seemed plausible, it seemed like the right time in my life, and it just seemed like an opportunity that was too great to pass up. And so I dove in."