Diana Swenton currently works at Suffolk Technologies, a VC firm investing in startups transforming the construction and real estate sectors. Since 2019, Suffolk Technologies has backed over 22 companies from seed through growth stages across automation and robotics, supply chain marketplace, sustainability, financial technology, and smart building themes.
Prior to joining Suffolk Technologies, Diana was a Venture Capitalist at Dell Technologies, which invested in startups in the Enterprise B2B tech, including AI, Big Data, IoT, Cyber-security, Infrastructure, Cloud native, Cloud storage systems, and DevOps.
Jody Robie, SVP of TalentWorks, sat down with Diana Swenton at Suffolk Technologies to learn more about what she is investing in and why.
Startup Boston (SB): Tell us a little about Suffolk Technologies and about yourself - where did you start, and how did you get interested in investing?
Diana Swenton (DS): Suffolk Technologies is a venture capital platform investing in startups leading the technology transformation of the construction and real estate sectors. We invest in early stage companies, and strive to be one of the most active investors on the cap table, from validating the product on active job sites to connecting companies with potential customers.
As for me, I worked in enterprise tech my entire career, from marketing to sales operations and data science, and finally jumping into venture capital at Dell Technologies Capital, the early stage investment arm of Dell. It was a great introduction to VC - the group there is extremely successful investing in enterprise hardware and software. I was able to dive into topics like robotics, IoT and connectivity, and supply chain. I ultimately decided to move from Dell because I wanted to move beyond enterprise infrastructure into more tangible technologies and also work with earlier stage companies. Contech and proptech and Suffolk Technologies definitely fit the bill.
SB: What excites you - what do you look for in portfolio investments?
DS: We look for founders that have identified a compelling problem and created an effective solution to solve it. It could be incumbents or newcomers to the space, but generally they should understand (or at least be ready for) the nuances of the industry - multiple stakeholders, differences between private and public jobs, regional market dynamics etc. We look at the team, product and market. Our superpower is that we can validate solutions with operational experts in the field, which no other VC can do as dynamically as us.
Since 2019, Suffolk Tech has backed over twenty companies across broad themes that touch the built environment, including automation and robotics, supply chain marketplaces, sustainability, financial services, and property IoT and smart buildings. There are many different business models and a lot of sophistication in these startups that are transforming the construction and real estate sectors. For example, we invested in a materials marketplace for subcontractors, which is using technology to help contractors order materials in a streamlined, efficient way and minimize errors. Traditionally the construction industry has been slow to adopt new technology, but there are large tailwinds for technology in the industry right now, including generational shift, labor shortage, technology leaps and advances in domains like robotics and IoT, maturation of digital tools, and of course the push towards sustainability. By connecting innovative startups with experts in the field and generalist investors, we’ve been able to help young companies grow much faster in a traditionally conservative industry.
SB: What’s the team structure?
DS: Our team is six people. Most of us are dedicated to the investment side of things - sourcing, evaluating new opportunities, managing investments. The other part is our Platform Team - they help engage companies with operational experts, find opportunities for and assist with pilots, and also run our annual Boost program. The Boost program is sort of like a Y Combinator for construction companies. It’s an intense six-week program that brings together promising construction tech founders and introduces them to operational experts in the AEC industry around a key challenge that the startup wants to solve. This year we’re running our third cohort. We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from the industry so far and companies in our cohorts have raised close to $400M from VCs including many top-tier funds. We’re a small team, but with a powerful network of both construction experts, trade partners, and investors, which makes us a tremendous asset to our companies.
SB: Can you tell us: what sort of check size are you usually writing when it comes to your scope of investment?
DS: We are normally looking at a 1-2 million average check size, which puts us in a great position to lead Seed rounds. We can stretch the check size to co-lead Series A rounds as well.
SB: Taking a step back and looking at the founders and the people you’ve invested in: what do you look at, and what kind of attributes?
DS: First and foremost, because we are at such an early stage, we’re looking at people who have a great vision for their company and show expertise in their field. It would be concerning if they didn’t at least know as much as us about their space or how to build a company in this space, because at the end of the day, we can provide all the new connections they want, but it’s up to them to build the company.
SB: What do you look for in a pitch deck?
DS: The deck has to effectively communicate what market opportunity the founder is going after and how they’re going to build a big company in this space. It doesn’t have to be a pretty or flashy presentation by any means. It does need to cover things like the business model and challenges that you expect to face (like competition) and how you plan to deploy new funds. Many founders treat the business model as an afterthought, and even more say they expect no challenges or no competition, which simply cannot be true. Finally, it should contain some background on the team - why is this the best team to build this business?
SB: Are there ways that you support funds and add value beyond investment?
DS: Our Platform was built to act as glue between our portfolio companies, the startup ecosystem, and the broader AEC ecosystem. We’re able to run pilots on job sites, connect startups with experts in their field, and engage with our trade partner network, which often come to our portfolio companies in the form of leads for their business. Our trade partner ecosystem contains 15,000 trade partners and our quarterly newsletter showcases the latest tech in the space.
SB: What is the best way to get in touch with your firm?
DS: You can check us out and send us a message at suffolk-tech.com. The Boost program is another great way for early-stage founders to get involved. Once you’re in our ecosystem, we’ll make sure to connect you with the right people to help build transformative solutions for construction and real estate.
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About the author: Jody Robie is the SVP of North America at Talent Works, a talent attraction firm focusing specifically on recruiting and employer branding. If you have questions about your current talent strategy feel free to reach out directly to her on LinkedIn.