UA Start-Up Company Ready to Serve Construction Industry
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A company supported by The University of Alabama will open for business June 6, the culmination of years of hard work by a recent engineering graduate.
“As part of UA’s research mission, we seek to develop solutions to improve the quality of life and solve major problems that confront society while simultaneously expanding the base of knowledge and technologies available,” said Dr. Rick Swatloski, director of the Office for Technology Transfer.
Bidsters is the brainchild of Ben Bickerstaff, a native of Anniston, who graduated in civil engineering from UA’s College of Engineering in December 2013. Found at bidstersusa.com, the company plans to be an online interactive database that businesses in the construction industry can use to manage and advertise both sides of the project bidding process. It is designed to help large contractors submit competitive bids while helping subcontractors grow by finding more projects to bid.
“Bidsters will not change what the construction industry does, but it will give them a tool to more easily do what they already do,” Bickerstaff said. “Bidsters gives users the ability to manage and interact with their already existing network, but it also gives them the ability to find new contacts outside of their established relationships.”
As a Cooperative Education employee for a large construction company while at UA, Bickerstaff was charged with finding companies to bid on contracted construction jobs. Through a bid process, general contractors hire other companies or individuals, called subcontractors, to perform specialized tasks on a project. The general contractor includes the costs of all subcontracts into the final bid submitted to the owner of the construction project.
Despite advances in technology, Bickerstaff found it was still enormously time consuming to find subcontractors for a bid. General contractors want a lot of bids since that usually lowers costs, and subcontractors want to know about projects to bid.
Bickerstaff hopes his company can step into the gap between contractors and subcontractors, allowing them to connect and communicate easier and faster through the online database.
“Bidsters is more than a listing service. It is an interactive network,” he said. “Bidsters allows contractors to list their contact information, and it provides the ability to quickly perform necessary business tasks like sending invitations to bid and sharing blueprints.”
There are other companies who offer similar services, but Bickerstaff said Bidsters has a unique approach because companies can list themselves on Bidsters’ database for free, giving them exposure and the ability to accept invitations to bid and submit small bid files. This approach should beef up the breadth of information on Bidsters and increase the value of the database for general contracting firms who can pay for access that allows them to conduct the entire bid process through Bidsters.
Premium customers can create project bids, search for subcontractors to bid, manage subcontractor lists, share files with the subcontractors and award bids on Bidsters’ website.
“Bidsters solves a common business need, how to connect people efficiently and effectively,” said Dr. Whitney L. Hough, a venture development associate with the UA Office for Technology Transfer. “Ben worked hard to determine what features the construction industry wanted by interviewing professionals in the field. We are excited to see all of his hard work lead to the launch of Bidsters.”
Bickerstaff entered the Launchpad contest three times, advancing a bit further each round. The process helped him modify his business plan.
“It improved each time through the process,” he said. “The feedback from the judges and exposure helped, and the money funded the last bit to get Bidsters off the ground.”
With the money from Alabama Launchpad contest that ended in March, Bickerstaff was able to finish development of the website, hire legal counsel to devise website policies and help plan a launch party for potential customers.
Bickerstaff has set up shop in The Edge, a business incubator in downtown Tuscaloosa that is a joint project between UA, the city of Tuscaloosa and the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. His idea would not be ready for business without the help of the staff of the UA Office for Technology Transfer, he said.
“The support I have received from that office is unparalleled, and, without them, I would not be going to market,” Bickerstaff said.
The launch party will be June 6 at noon in EDPA headquarters at 500 Beacon Parkway West, Birmingham, 35209.
The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.