Tech start-up of the week: Buildingeye

27 May 2012

Ciaran Gilsenan, founder of Buildingeye is our tech start-up to watch this week. The company, which was just set up in 2011, has come up with a new web application that geolocates planning application data in cities, from Dublin to Seattle, so that people can see what’s being planned in their area.

Ciaran Gilsenan is the brains behind Buildingeye. A civil engineer by profession, he had been involved in planning developments around Ireland and the UK for 12 years, working with local authorities in the process.

“I was frequently asked to search for planning data and found this very labour intensive, as each council has its own site and its own system. We thought that it would be a lot easier if all the boundaries were removed and the projects were located on the map with an easy search facility which incorporated keywords to filter out the applications you are looking for, so that’s what we did,” he explained.

Buildingeye has just finished the Launchpad digital accelerator at the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC). And two weeks ago it got its hands on a €20,000 investment from the NDRC when it came second in its Lift-Off competition.

“We pitched to a room full of venture capitalists and investors. A judging panel watched our pitch and we came in the top two,” said Gilsenan. “We are now looking to get in front of as many investors as possible,” he said.

Planning data for cities in Ireland, the UK and the US is in beta mode at the moment, but for Dublin City, for instance, you can key in keywords such as ‘retail’ to get updates on recent planning updates for a specific part of the city.

You can also search for planning data from four UK city councils – London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester.

The web app already has collated planning data from the US city of Seattle, plus Gilsenan and the team are working on geolocating the planning data from New York and San Francisco by talking with the city authorities there.

Planning data for Ranelagh in Dublin using Buildingeye's geo-location technology
Planning data for Ranelagh in Dublin using Buildingeye’s geolocation technology

Working with Palo Alto

And Buildingeye is also working with the city of Palo Alto in California to get all of its planning data on its web app.

“We showed the Palo Alto City Authority how our application works for other cities in the US and they really liked it. We are working on getting their data up on our map so we can see it functioning fully,” explained Gilsenan.

He said that Buildingeye is hoping to have the planning data for another 60 US cities in the next eight to 10 weeks.

And he said that the aim would be to bring out a mobile version of the app that can be used on both the iPhone and Android devices.

“We have built the app in such a way that it can be easily tweaked for both Android and the iPhone.”

Team of five

Right now, a team of five is working at the start-up.

“I am CEO, while Phil McNamara heads up our business development in the US as he is based in Palo Alto. He is and very proactive on getting out there and meeting with investors. We also have two developers and a graphic designer,” said Gilsenan.

He said that the plan is to build out a sales team.

Initially, Gilsenan set up the company in 2011 under the name Mypp, which stands for ‘my planning permission’ to focus on collating the planning data from the four local authorities in Dublin.

The start-up worked with the Dublinked initiative when Dublin City’s data was opened up last October.

“In Ireland are focusing on geo-locating data in Dublin where the highest concentration of projects are. We know how the rest of the country operates but this would be rolled out very quickly if all the local authorities could provide us with real-time data,” said Gilsenan.

How Buildingeye works

But how, exactly, does the technology work?

“We take local government data from different cities and different countries and we visualise this information on our map,” he explains.

“Each application is identified with a small site notice icon on the map with an information window providing details on the proposed project, and a link at the bottom providing direct access to the planning drawings and documents associated with that file.”

As well as this, the icons are colour coded to reflect the planning status of the application.

Subscription service

Gilsenan said that Buildingeye will be a subscription service, targeted at building contractors, for instance.

“We have all the data on the latest projects being planned, so for businesses we provide a lead generation service to those who are looking for new projects.

“Our get-notified service allows subscribers to find out about who’s planning a project within a chosen radius of their property. Once a new application comes within their zone we alert them to it,” he explains.

And local authorities in Dublin appear to be reacting well to the service.

“We won an enterprise award from Fingal County Council for the use of their data and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council have us up on their website.

Mapping planning data globally

He also said that the platform has been built so that Buildingeye can accelerate quickly into mapping data from cities in other countries.

“We spent time researching key geographies and we know we can hit these locations running. As well as the US, we want to build out more in Ireland and the UK too.”

As for challenges setting up, Gilsenan said there have been quite a few. “Getting data from the government can be very slow but were getting there.”

He said that being part of the Launchpad accelerator has been a great help.

“For three months we had access to excellent mentors and we had top VCs come in and talk to us and pass on their advice. We also got great support from other start-up companies and investors that we have met along the way. There’s a super start-up community out there and it’s great to be a part of it.

‘Build small and think big’

And his parting advice for other burgeoning enterprises out there is to build small and think big.

“Build the minimum amount that you can to understand the market,” explains Gilsenan. “If it will work here in Ireland there’s a good chance it could work anywhere, and more important, if you can sell it here in these tough times then your on the right track. If you have a great team it really accelerates the process.”

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic