March 21, 2023

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Erin Stephenson is co-founder of DOZR, a Kitchener-based digital marketplace that contractors turn to when they need to rent heavy machinery like a backhoe or bulldozer.
“Typically, when you need construction equipment, you need it now,” Stephenson says. But in the past, the equipment rental market has had little transparency around rates and availability — driving up construction costs. Founded in 2015, DOZR’s platform matches suppliers and contractors, and the firm also provides e-commerce software for rental companies to automate their operations.
Stephenson stands out in an industry where still 90 per cent of workers are men. And her company is making waves, too.
“We’re growing really rapidly,” she says. In January, DOZR raised $27.5 million, enabling it to double the size of its team to 120 and push ahead with plans to expand further in the U.S. “We can’t get people in the door fast enough,” says Stephenson.
Here, Stephenson talks about how the construction industry is starting to embrace both technology and diversity.
Construction has long been viewed as a man’s world. What’s it like as a woman working in the industry?
Straddling tech and construction is a unique place to be — I’ve found the reaction to me as a woman to be different in each industry. In general, there are more systemic challenges in tech whereas in construction, I’m often given more opportunity to address bias head on. I try to look at others’ perspectives as an opportunity for personal growth. If I can surprise someone, prove my value and give them the confidence that I can address their challenges, the floodgates open. That initial conversation often helps me to build a longer-standing relationship with customers.
We’re starting to see more women show interest in construction. At DOZR, we have a good portion of women on our staff, and that continues to grow year over year. We want to make sure that we have representation at all levels of the organization and in all different departments, from engineering to finance to sales — everywhere. That’s something we really strive for.
You started your career in corporate HR. How did you end up renting out excavators and scissor lifts?
I worked at BlackBerry for almost a decade. The company was going through a lot of turmoil, including layoffs, when I went on maternity leave. That gave me the opportunity to step back and re-evaluate my career. I was already immersed in Forestell Designed Landscapes, my husband’s landscaping company. In any successful family business, the founder has a vast support network of people helping them, and we are no exception — at the dinner table every night we discussed what machinery he might need. We were experiencing lots of growing pains and equipment was a big one. We knew that it was an issue for just about everybody else in the industry as well. We couldn’t find any solutions on the market, so we decided to solve it ourselves by launching DOZR.
Is the construction industry keen on adopting new technology?
It’s been an evolution. When started, there was very little tech adoption — companies weren’t investing a lot. Over time, we’ve seen that more and more companies are not just adopting technology, they’re also really coming to understand the value of it. Labour shortages, rising material costs and global supply chain issues are all accelerating tech uptake, as there are more problems that need to be solved. Technology provides viable solutions by helping to enhance operations, from maximizing efficiency to aiding with organization to increasing profits. The tides are changing.
What do you see in the future for your company?
I would love to see DOZR in every U.S. state. And I really want it to be the default resource for contractors when they’re looking for equipment. I want to make sure we’re helping to advance the industry in becoming more efficient and adopting more technology into the way that they operate their businesses. If we can be the driving force for tech adoption, that would make me very happy.
What’s your advice for other women who want to become leaders in male-dominated industries such as construction?
The labour shortage has forced many industries that have been lagging to change their practices and their mindsets, because they cannot succeed any other way. So, it’s a really good time for women to come in and break ground in some of these areas. My advice: go for it.
What’s your favourite piece of construction machinery?
A few years ago, we rented some equipment through our own platform and brought our entire team out to a farmer’s field where they could try it. We had a bulldozer, an excavator and a skid steer. The bulldozer was the most fun — it’s just so big. It gave me a real appreciation for the equipment operators who use it, because it takes serious talent and skill.
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