Spotlight Series: Interview with Brittany Harris, CEO and co-founder of Qflow

11 May 2021

Brittany Harris Spotlight

Who are you?

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Qflow. My background is in civil engineering - I started my career with Mott MacDonald engineering and then spent some time on site in Hong Kong with Laing O’ Rourke and came back to the UK to work for BuroHappold Engineering.

What inspired you to start Q flow?

I became quite frustrated with the linearity of the engineering and construction world.  I saw that whilst, we design for sustainability, this often gets “value engineered” out (quality gets compromised for cost), the impact can be terrible, and there are so many opportunities to improve it.

I met my co-founder Jade in 2016 who is also from the construction industry, and worked on Crossrail and HS2 for Skanska as an environmental advisor. We were both volunteering for an organisation called World Merit and bonded over our love hate relationship with construction; it is  this amazing industry that builds the world around us, but it is also unsustainable and inefficient

The Q flow product today solves a lot of the pain points that Jade experienced on site.

How does Q flow work?

Q flow makes it easy for construction teams to track and manage their waste and material data which helps inform cost control, sustainability reporting, and supply chain management. We use machine learning and AI to extract, structure, and audit this data so that it is instantly accessible and valuable. Engineering teams can then use this data to improve efficiency and sustainability on their construction sites.

The data we capture is also incredibly valuable to developers and investors who want to get a clear and transparent picture of what is going into their developments. It also helps them to identify small changes in behaviour and processes that will enable them to deliver on their net zero targets, creating a more profitable and efficient infrastructure and developments.

What makes working at Q flow so rewarding?

The most rewarding parts about working in Qflow is our team and our clients, and I know that sounds cheesy but it's true. I am always impressed and touched by the creativity and honesty of our team and their ability to work together in challenging times.

I am equally enthused and inspired by our clients and their genuine commitment to improve and the push the boundaries by using innovative technology that will help them deliver a higher level of sustainability in their day-to-day work. During lockdown we've been able to see inside the homes of our clients and meet their children and pets - that's one of the best things about the pandemic, because we've been able to get to know them on a personal level.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in your entrepreneurial journey?

There have been a huge number of challenges, and the process of overcoming them has been an amazing learning experience. One of the biggest challenges so far has been raising investment to accelerate the growth of Qflow  . Although interest in construction technology has boomed in the last two years, a lot of funds still see this industry as too slow and too risky. The fact that this is being taken on by two female first-time foundersis seen as a risk too far.

What’s next in the pipeline for Q flow?

We’re growing the team and launching on some of the biggest infrastructure projects in Europe. We're building out new functionality within the product to deliver, safer more sustainable construction projects. I am so excited to see the impact this will have on the construction industry.

2020 was a challenging year for everyone. What's it like to run your business through a pandemic?

I've been so impressed with how our team adapted to remote working whilstmaintaining a high level of collaboration and support throughout 2020. That flexible collaborative mindset has been pivotal in enabling us to continue working well as a team throughout lockdown.

Between March and August 2020, the majority of our customers were on furlough and couldn't be contacted. Relentless grit, optimism, and the support of our network, helped us to use that time really productively to support the few sites that stayed open. By the time construction kicked-off again in September, we hit the ground running.

What advice you would give to budding engineering entrepreneurs?

Start with the problem not the solution. One thing we got right from the start is that we focused solely on understanding and solving a real problem; one that we had experienced and explored with our first few clients. Only then did we develop the solution that turned into QFlow. Remember – technology enables you to reach a goal, is not the goal itself.

What impact has the Enterprise Hub had on your business? What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt?

The Enterprise Hub really kicked off this whole thing for Jade and I. We were still full-time engineers, and it was only through pitching our idea to the Enterprise Hub's Launchpad Competition and taking on their feedback that we were able to build out this mission into a business with a clear product that could deliver the change that we wanted to see.

We've learnt so many lessons along the way, but I guess the most important lesson is that you can be a good engineer as well as an entrepreneur, and that your experience in the industry is in many ways  a unique advantage.

And finally - any tips for potential applicants?

Be confident in what you know, and do not be afraid to acknowledge the things that you do not yet know. You are not expected to have everything nailed on day one, and your ability to acknowledge those gaps is just as valuable as you having them filled.


Quick fire questions

Who is your role model? Rachel Skinner (current President of the Institute of Civil Engineering) – she has managed to trail blaze an amazing career and build a beautiful family. We need more role models like this.

Tell us a random fact not many people know about you.  I have a diploma in classical singing and almost joined the West End.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Gardening – I love being outside and cultivating things; much more cathartic than being behind a computer.

When I was a child, I wanted to be… so many things! Marine Biologist, Expeditionary, West End Performer…

If I wasn’t an entrepreneur, I would be… probably back living and working in Peru for EcoSwell

I don’t understand why… we ended up with such a huge disparity in gender roles!?

What’s your biggest weakness? Chocolate!

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? David Attenborough, Angela Merkel, Bill Gates, Emma Watson – that should result in some interesting conversation!

When I’m not working at Q flow, I am… running with the dog or mountain biking, hiking, gardening… anything to be outside!

What are your top three desert island items? Count of Monte Cristo, my guitar, my knife (got to be practical!)

Do you have any life regrets? No, just a lot of lessons learned!

If I could have a superpower, it would be… teleportation! I miss travelling and seeing friends

Which fellow Hub Member are you most impressed by? Pae Natwilai – she has always been so supportive, and has powered through so many ups and downs and built a great product.

And finally, if you could invent a new piece of tech, what would it be and what problem would it solve?  A sustainability companion that assesses everything we do and helps to guide us to a more sustainable choice, like the dragon in Disney’s Mulan with the mind of Greta Thunberg.

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