Small Business

Wichita firm develops virtual reality software to help plan construction projects

Chris Callen couldn’t find the kind of sophisticated project scheduling tool he wanted. So he decided to create his own.
Chris Callen couldn’t find the kind of sophisticated project scheduling tool he wanted. So he decided to create his own. The Wichita Eagle

As head of his family’s construction company, Chris Callen couldn’t find the kind of sophisticated project scheduling tool he wanted. So Callen decided to create his own.

The result is a schedule generator that uses virtual reality software in the planning stages, generates task priorities and consolidates status reports from multiple construction team members as the job advances.

“Think of it as crowd-sourcing information from the entire construction team,” he said.

Lest all that sound too high-tech, Callen chose “Grit” as the name of the product, which is designed for projects of at least $10 million.

“That’s the one characteristic we wanted of people coming to work here,” he said. Selling people in the construction business on new technology “won’t be easy,” he says, but at least he comes from that background.

Callen grew up working weekends and summers for Builders Plus Construction, the concrete subcontractor started by his father, Hal, in 1985. He served as CEO of Builders Plus for four years before leaving in November to devote himself full-time to Grit Virtual, which he had started a few months earlier. That company originally operated out of the GroundWork Startup Hub, a co-working space on the second floor of the Builders Plus building at 1520 E. Douglas. Callen said Grit grew out of experiments with two gaming company start-ups at GroundWork, which used their software to create architectural models.

Grit Virtual, which now employs 10 people, moved to new offices in Old Town Square on March 1. In addition to Callen, seven software engineers, a chief technology officer and director of product work there.

Callen said Grit Virtual has raised $840,000 from investors in and out of Kansas, including Techstar KC and Network Kansas. Nearly half came from the construction executive team of Hi-Tech Interiors in Manhattan.

“A lot of it was through the connections we made through Techstar’s (business) accelerator,” Callen said, “(and) a lot of industry contacts I’ve known for years.”

The Grit software has been tested on a pilot basis during Key Construction’s work on the River Vista apartments on the Arkansas River, as well as by McCownGordon Construction of Kansas City. In February, Callen hosted a dozen construction industry representatives from across the nation in town for a look at it, and also invited the public to view it.

The company plans to release a beta version of the product for more testing on April 2. Callen said Grit Virtual is interviewing contractors interested in participating.

He called the virtual reality aspect of Grit “powerful because of how instinctive it is. You can put the headset on someone and give them about 60 seconds of instructions and they’re ready.”

Walking through virtual reality models, construction personnel can make more accurate estimates of what resources will be needed on each aspect of a project and spot potential problems before they occur, Callen said. The Grit software generates plans with more effective workflows than human planners are capable of, Callen said, and is capable of responding to inevitable changes in a project timeline caused by weather, supply chains and other factors. Construction field teams find their daily tasks on the generated plan and update it with daily reports. Although the product will be marketed primarily to general contractors, they can make portals available to architects, developers and others involved in projects.

Callen contrasted Grit with scheduling tools that rely on what’s known as a Gantt chart, a kind of horizontal chart first used in the early 20th century showing project tasks and what needs to happen between those tasks.

“It’s a top-down management practice, generated and passed down,” Callen said of the older approach. “We consider ourselves to be bottom-up software.”

Now you know

Grit Virtual

Address: 756 E. 2nd

Phone: 316-226-8445