Our Investment In Continuum Industries
TL;DR Using AI to help design linear infrastructure is a multi-billion dollar global opportunity and Grzegorz, Matt, Adam and Emil are incredibly well placed to build the category-leading company in this space.
How it all started
It was in the summer of 2019. I was booked to attend Turing Fest in the days when it was still possible to fly and attend events (😭). I was looking forward to exploring Edinburgh and getting out of London for a few days.
It immediately grabbed my attention.
Construction is absolutely of interest to Playfair. In fact, it is an area we have been excited about since we launched Fund II.
The rest of the message is a textbook example of a successful cold inbound message:
- Used the Turing Fest event to make the message relevant
- Summarised what Continuum Industries does in one sentence
- Teased me with details of their first enterprise customer, also in one sentence
- Summed up the company history and financing — with a strong angel investor and validation of a DfT grant — again in one sentence
- Attached the deck for me to review when I had a chance
- Gave both email and mobile contacts so I could get in touch either on receipt of his message or on the day
As it happens, I replied by email immediately to start asking questions.
Fast forward to the day of the event, and it was hectic. The 1–1 slots Grzegorz referred to ran most of the day and I was pretty exhausted by the time I made it down to the lower ground floor of the venue to look at some of the stands.
Here I bumped into Grzegorz who noticed my Playfair t-shirt and grabbed me for a quick demo. We talked about HS2, which happens to run rather too close to my parents' garden for comfort, whilst he showed me a demo of their route planning system. Despite being a little tired, I was blown away, and delighted that he had persisted in tracking me down at the venue.
Applying AI to linear infrastructure
The video above is a year on from my initial meeting with Grzegorz, but looking back to summer 2019 when we were getting to know the business, we were excited about a number of key elements that have remained unchanged:
- Little to no technological innovation in this space. Linear infrastructure design processes had remained unchanged for decades. They were manual, slow, and ripe for disruption from new technologies.
- The impact of AI would be significant. As investors, we are not interested in incremental improvements, but rather 10x, 100x, or more. In this case, reducing the time it takes to plan a linear infrastructure project from ~6 months to a matter of weeks or even days is a game-changer.
- Better outcomes for all stakeholders. In addition to speed and cost savings, the ability to both look at more potential routes at the outset and to adjust routes ‘on the fly’ during the design process means that more, higher quality, and better value infrastructure will end up being built.
From a technological perspective, we saw the huge potential Continuum Industries offered to any company involved in the design and development of infrastructure projects. Layer on top the margin pressure many of these companies are under, and our thesis was that companies not using this technology will, in a short time, be unable to compete with those that are.
In summary, this technology will quickly become a must have in this space.
A massive and growing market
Depending on which sources you look at, billions — or trillions — of dollars is spent annually on global infrastructure. Linear infrastructure is a major component of this and includes anything that runs from A -> B including:
We were particularly excited by the role Continuum has to play in the move to carbon neutrality. As more countries pursue this goal and bring onstream renewable sources of generation — such as offshore wind —the more linear infrastructure is required to connect it up to the grid for distribution.
A young, passionate team with exceptional domain expertise
In 2017, Adam Anyszewski founded the Edinburgh Hyperloop society, which grew to over 100 members including Grzegorz Marecki and Emil Hansen.
A shared passion for Elon Musk’s Hyperloop vision saw the team successfully build two working prototype pods, the second of which went to Silicon Valley in 2018, and subsequently spawned the idea to create a global software business that would work across all infrastructure types, not just rail.
Joined by their fourth co-founder Matt Blythe, who had extensive experience in infrastructure advisory consulting, they launched Continuum Industries in June 2018 once they finished their studies.
- They are young, but have exceptionally deep domain expertise
- They live and breathe linear infrastructure with a shared genuine passion
- Unusually, they cover the full spectrum of required competencies from the deeply technical through to the commercial
Reflections after closing
Continuum is benefiting from two strong tailwinds that we did not foresee when we invested.
First, the economic challenges created by the global pandemic have resulted in a renewed commitment by governments around the world to invest in infrastructure. This is consistent with what happened after the 2008 financial crisis and demonstrates the counter-cyclical nature of this sector.
Second, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recently launched Green Industrial Revolution comes with an ambitious goal of net carbon zero emissions by 2050. Fulfilling this lofty ambition will require a significant investment in new infrastructure, particularly in renewables and distribution, that is significantly increasing demand for Continuum’s technology.
The future of the company
Since closing, Continuum has grown the team to 14 people, successfully built out Optioneer, launched an oversubscribed Early Adopters Programme, welcomed its first paying client (Mott Macdonald), and is rolling out its solution to companies around the world for projects covering water and hydrogen pipelines, cabling and more.