The construction bid cycle, which can take weeks, is reduced to hours with the bid support services of pro-UP.
Founded by the wife-and-husband duo Rachel Miller and Dan Scranton, pro-UP is a digital franchise service that provides professional assistance for all phases of the construction bid process. While pro-UP has historically been focused on signage—picture the signs pointing to emergency exits or describing the fire prevention system in large buildings—the plan is to extend to other construction trades and industry verticals.
The Rockwell-based startup is of the seven companies in the 8th cohort of the RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP). The 12-week program began on June 9 and ends later in the fall when companies give an in-person pitch. pro-UP was also one of the 25 semifinalists for NC IDEA’s $50K SEED Grants earlier this year.
Prior to founding pro-UP, Miller (CEO) and Scranton (Head of Product Development) owned a wholesale architectural sign manufacturing and consultation business called RL Signs. Their industry knowledge of ADA code design eventually led them to pivot from production into consulting. Manufacturers of commercial projects—including hotel chains, airports, apartment complexes and universities—routinely sought their advice on esoteric tasks such as project evaluation, reviewing project contract documents, and locating federal and state code compliance violations, Miller said.
The increasing demand for their assistance led Miller and Scranton to digitize their services and officially start pro-UP in 2015. The company’s “secret sauce”—which they are currently developing into multiple trades beyond signage—are the well-established product lines they use to assist clients, which are based on six years of research, customization and automation, Miller said.
Bidding commercial construction projects requires many disciplines working together throughout the project lifecycle, and traditionally these efforts are handled by several departments using a variety of software applications, Miller said. pro-UP offers all of these services at an affordable rate, allowing their clients to increase the number of projects they can do, sometimes by a factor of five.
The first stage of the commercial construction process is the discovery stage, when clients locate projects worth their time within their sales scope and production capacity. The pro-UP system matches somebody’s skill to a job, no matter where they are in the world.
“Our concept is that if an engineer sitting at home in California has 40 minutes to kill after dinner,” Scranton said, “he can very quickly log onto our system and pick up three or four jobs. It’s a very quick process.”
Following the discovery stage are the bidding and award stages. The behemoth-sized bid documents not only make it time-consuming for clients to sift through, but confusing, especially when trying to understand what signs need to go where or what ADA code compliances need to be followed. To help dissect the massive amount of information, pro-UP provides fully trained staff for their clients on an as-needed basis.
“For example,” Miller said, “a client building a hotel with 73 floors has to look at every single floor in the entire document and understand what signs are required to pass, and what the fire codes and building codes are so that they’re appropriately assigning them. It’s a very onerous process.”
The startup sorts through all of the bid documents, which can be thousands of pages long, and aggregates the core information clients need to accurately bid on commercial construction projects. pro-UP—which is short for “professional upgrade”—compiles the information in a professional presentation.
“When you work in a design-based market,” said Miller, “there is an added expectation that your presentations look great. We allow our clients to concentrate on the projects while we take care of their image.”
All signs point to expansion
The company’s focus right now is on commercial signage projects. Despite the numerous estimating software programs already in the industry, pro-UP’s competitive edge are their well-established product lines and the on-demand professional assistance they provide their clients throughout all steps of the bid process, Miller said.
“While our competitors may offer solutions focusing on one or more of these steps, we work hand-in-hand with our clients offering either turn-key service for the entire project, or on an as-needed basis if they only require assistance with one phase,” Miller said.
Seeing growth potential in multiple other trades beyond signage, they are currently working on an interface to assist clients in other verticals. Scranton foresees pro-UP’s technology as a solution across multiple trades because it allows people across the world to work remotely on the same project.
In fact, one of the reasons pro-UP (which is entirely bootstrapped) is “coming out of the curtain” and participating in RIoT is to work on company branding and prepare for the big scaling effort they have planned.
“Our clients are faced with a massive capacity issue with opportunities exceeding their available time,” Scranton said. “But this problem is not unique to the commercial construction industry. We see the need for commercial subcontractors in multiple trades to bid on more projects in order to remain competitive.”