Last year, when San Francisco-based StreetLight Data needed an east coast hub, founder and CEO Laura Schewel looked to the familiar territory of her home town.
Now, after a year of having her employees here work in a coworking space on Broad Street and fresh off a $10 million capital raise, the Richmond native and Collegiate School grad has found more permanent digs for her growing firm in Scott’s Addition.
StreetLight, which uses location data from smartphones and other connected devices to analyze traffic patterns for transportation and urban planning, has leased around 3,000 square feet in the Summit Suites office building at 3122 W. Marshall St.
The property is owned and was redeveloped last year by a group led by Yogi Singh, who has a connection to Schewel that goes well beyond landlord and tenant.
The two were childhood friends growing up in Richmond and graduated together from Collegiate. As Schewel went off to California for grad school, where she founded StreetLight in 2011 while attending UC Berkeley, Singh, a VCU grad, began a career in real estate that has since grown into several new developments around the city in recent years.
“Yogi always joked and told me, “When you’re ready to build a whole tower, I’ll build it,’” Schewel said.
Singh said he wasn’t joking.
“We’ve been friends since fifth grade,” Singh said of him and Schewel. “She’s the smartest person I know. I’m lucky and excited to be part of her growth.”
Schewel started StreetLight on the idea of using huge batches of location data from cellphones and connected vehicles to paint a picture of people’s transportation habits, with a big-picture goal of helping clients improve transportation problems, such as congestion and vehicle emissions.
“They are these little sensors zooming around and I thought maybe we could co-opt them,” she said of her initial idea for the company.
Seven years later, the company now provides data for large state government clients such as VDOT, which prompted the need for an East Coast presence. The company also is seeing increased business from clients in the ride-hailing, car-share and bike-share industries.
“We pull in huge amounts of anonymized, de-identified data to create an aggregate picture,” she said. “It’s like recycling data – we call it data exhaust – to learn something about the transportation behavior in an overall community.”
So, for example, if a client needs to know what percentage of people who work in downtown Richmond travel more than 20 minutes for their commute, StreetLight can spit that out into digestible data.
In addition to being close to VDOT, Schewel said a Richmond outpost gives her easy access to Washington, D.C., and proximity to a workforce coming out of universities in the region.
StreetLight has grown to 54 employees, including seven in Richmond. Schewel said that local headcount is likely to change. Three of her employees have asked to be relocated to Richmond as a more-affordable alternative to the West Coast – and she expects more to follow.
“San Francisco is impossibly expensive even if you have a high-paying tech job,” she said.
And it doesn’t hurt to be able to visit her parents, who still live here, and friends like Singh.
“I would not be so selfish to make it the main reason, but it’s hard to start an office and manage a team that’s thousands of miles away from you. So knowing the area and knowing people there makes that process easier.”
When StreetLight moves into the 16,000-square-foot Marshall Street building in December, it will join law firm Graybill, Lansche & Vinzani, and mobile app maker Shockoe and auction website builder 501 Auctions.
Singh said his group also has new financing in place on the building, having recently closed on the refinancing of the debt on the property to pay off the original acquisition and construction loan borrowed from Union Bank & Trust. They now have a CMBS loan of around $3 million.
As for the other two buildings and parking lots – 3113 and 3015 W. Marshall St. – purchased as part of their initial Summit Suites deal, Singh said his group is under contract to sell those sites to an unnamed local developer.