Urbaneer expands into larger markets
Company began as ‘small space living’ division of Rockford Construction in 2014.
Urbaneer recently gained national attention when it showcased its wireless kitchen concept at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Now with the aid of private investors, the former “small space living” division of Rockford Construction has branched out on its own and is headed into larger markets.
The newly independent company was born from a partnership between founder Bruce Thompson and Rockford Construction CEO Mike VanGessel in 2014. The company started as a division of Rockford focused on designing solutions to small-space, multifamily living situations.
The “Living @ 600 Douglas” apartment complex in Grand Rapids was one of the early projects where Rockford Construction piloted Urbaneer’s concepts in 2013.
“We did some early work in 2013, but it really started as part of an innovation effort at Rockford in earnest in 2014 with the intent always of springboarding out,” Thompson said.
Urbaneer also implemented its folding wall bed at the Venue Tower apartments in downtown Grand Rapids. Thompson said Urbaneer’s products are made to complement the urban environment.
The company’s products include other “intelligent” home furnishings, like movable walls and kitchen islands, adjustable tables and storage systems.
“It’s all about that flexibility and adaptability,” Thompson said. “So, we make that space live larger through all those furnishings that we design and engineer and produce in West Michigan.”
Thompson said Urbaneer came to the decision to venture onto the national platform late in 2017. In January 2018, the company showcased its wireless kitchen concept at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“That was really our first big national exposure,” Thompson said. “We’ve been a very regional company to date, but based on my network and connectivity, we were able to do a national showcase.”
As it continues to gain notoriety, Urbaneer is drawing more partners. The company most recently raised $500,000 of seed funding from a group of investors, including Raul Fernandez, owner and vice chair of Monumental Sports & Entertainment and founder of Proxicom.
“Technology is rapidly redefining how we live, work and play,” Fernandez said. “Urbaneer is on the leading edge of redefining how we live.”
“That type of connectivity is really going to help us get into this next phase of our growth,” Thompson said.
Urbaneer is continuing to build its presence in West Michigan and the Chicago area and recently started venturing into Washington D.C. and New York to draw more investors.
In addition to developing the wireless kitchen technologies showcased at CES, Urbaneer is working on new ways to integrate technology into “smart” lighting and sound systems that can be controlled wirelessly.
“It’s all about improving the occupant experience,” Thompson said. “We all have grown accustomed to technology. We want it to improve our lives, and in a smaller space, it’s very critical because you give up space if you have a better experience. So, technology now is a part of that.”
A January report by Forbes listed the wireless kitchen among its top four high tech home gadgets and appliances in 2018, alongside products from Samsung, Nokia, and Bang & Olufsen.
“Compared to many so-called innovations nowadays, this concept is truly practical and could make a great difference further down the road,” Forbes contributor Eustacia Huen said.
Urbaneer now is in the initial marketing phase as it pushes into the East Coast, but Thompson said the company already has gained attention on social media and through direct selling.
“We’ll be starting some marketing campaigns to reach builders and developers as our primary markets right now,” he said.
Urbaneer’s primary market will continue to be the multifamily sector, but Thompson said the company also is starting to work with single-family homebuilders.