ICON Creates a New Paradigm for Homebuilding
There’s a housing crisis in the U.S. Our country needs 3.3 million homes built per year, but due to multiple factors, including the shortage of skilled labor, we’re building just over a third of that number. The persistent imbalance of supply and demand for homes has contributed to the rapidly rising prices that we have seen in residential real estate, putting more and more homes out of reach for the average home buyer. And no one is predicting when this imbalance will be resolved, as U.S. homebuilders are not forecasted to significantly increase the annual number of new homes built any time soon.
As investors in proptech, we have long been interested in companies that are directly attacking the dual problems of availability and affordability of housing. And so, we are particularly excited to announce our Series B investment in ICON, a company that has created a completely new paradigm for building homes.
3D-Printed Structures with Limitless Potential
Jason Ballard, Evan Loomis, and Alex Le Roux started ICON three years ago to develop an integrated construction system that brings unparalleled innovation into the world of homebuilding. Along with a stellar engineering team deeply experienced in robotics, material science, and software, the ICON founders have created a solution that 3D prints concrete-based homes on site at speed, with less waste, and with more design freedom. The company has developed everything in-house, including (1) the 3D printers; (2) the patent-pending material composition called Lavacrete that enables the concrete-like mixture to form the wall system; and (3) the software that takes architectural designs and translates them into machine controls so that the print operator can build a house….with an app for a phone or tablet.
ICON can print 500 square feet in about 24 hours of print time, and with their latest technology, the next-gen Vulcan construction system, print up to a maximum size of a 3,000 sq. ft. home. With this technology and future advancements, they will have the capability of constructing the vast majority of the homes in America. Beyond the inherent time advantages of 3D printing the walls of a home in a matter of days, ICON offers benefits to home builders and home buyers…..starting with the fact that Lavacrete has numerous advantages over traditional building materials. Lavacrete is inherently strong, better able to retain heat/cool air, insect-proof, water-repellent, and fire and mold-resistant – all characteristics that make it well suited for mass construction of affordable, long-lasting homes.
By creating an integrated printer/Lavacrete/software solution, ICON eliminates construction waste, reduces costs, and is quicker than conventional construction. 3D printing also enables new form factors for buildings such as curved walls and roofs. This opens up the potential for their technology to take on new architectural designs and a wide variety of use cases. For example, non-profit organizations have collaborated with ICON to build homes for the homeless in Austin and underserved communities in Mexico. And on the other end of the spectrum, the U.S. military and NASA are collaborating with ICON to build structures for soldiers and astronauts in harsh conditions on Earth, the Moon, and potentially even Mars.
One of Mankind’s Biggest Challenges
We are beyond thrilled to lead ICON’s Series B investment. This new round of capital will help ICON continue to develop its technology, ramp up its manufacturing capability, and dramatically scale the number of partners in the marketplace who will use ICON to build affordable, beautiful, energy-efficient, and environmentally sensitive homes.
Ultimately, shelter is one of the most fundamental needs of people everywhere. The shortage of homes in the U.S. and around the globe is an ongoing crisis that desperately needs solutions. ICON is going to have a major impact on improving the lives of so many people.
To Jason, Evan, Alex, and the entire ICON team: welcome to the Norwest family! We are honored to ride with you.