ECE Alumni Spotlight Archive
Jon Thornton (ECE ’06)
Fenway Park is one of New England’s most popular destinations, especially in the summer. Unfortunately, many ticketholders that drive into Boston to see their beloved Red Sox have to contend with traffic and finding a place to park.
These aggravations are just some of the annoyances fans put up with to see baseball in Beantown, but there’s a company that can help with at least one of those problems.
ParkWhiz, founded by Aashish Dalal and Jon Thornton (ECE ’06) as a result of their own ballpark experiences, allows users to find available parking and reserve a space before they reach their destination. The technology even allows drivers to compare prices, location and amenities of the spaces.
“It’s incredibly gratifying to work on something that hundreds of thousands of people use to make their lives easier,” said Thornton. “Trying to build software that makes all of our customers happy can be a challenge, but it’s never boring, and that’s the best part about my job.”
In a way, ParkWhiz actually stemmed from Thornton’s senior design project at Boston University. He and his research team worked with Professor Thomas Little (ECE) who had written a research paper about designing a parking system based on sensor networks. The students’ job was to implement a design that would allow drivers to locate a parking space in a garage or at a meter and make a reservation.
“Jon had a key role in developing software to essentially move sensor data into the cloud by enabling parking spot vacancy sensors to communicate occupancy data to wireless gateways that collected information on parking availability,” Little recalled.
In the meantime, Dalal, who had been working on a business plan for a parking technology company, had come across Little’s research paper. Dalal reached out to the professor who then introduced Thornton to his future business partner. Thornton was prepared to start at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program in Fall 2006 but decided to work on ParkWhiz over the summer.
“Once NYU sent the first tuition bill in September, I decided I could get a much cheaper education by seeing where ParkWhiz went,” said Thornton.
The company grew slowly at first. For the first five years, the company was just Dalal and Thornton, who both took other jobs to support themselves. By their third year working on ParkWhiz, they were able to pay themselves a small salary and by the fourth year, the company really took off, and Dalal and Thornton were able to hire their first employee.
“Since then, we’ve hired 16 more in a little over a year,” said Thornton.
Today ParkWhiz, which is based in Chicago, can support parking requests near Madison Square Garden, Wrigley Field, and LAX Airport, to name a few. They have been the catalyst behind more than $10 million in parking revenue, have access to over three million parking spaces, and secured partnerships with StubHub, the Indianapolis Colts, and US Airways Center. The company also recently received $2 million in funding from Hyde Park Venture Partners, which will allow it to expand its team and accelerate its growth.
“This financing allows us to realize our next stage of growth, beginning with the hiring of 20 additional employees,” Dalal said in a press release.
As Parkwhiz continues to grow, Thornton continues to be grateful for his alma mater, not just because BU was where he met his cofounder but also because of the education he received. Professors Little and Min-Chang Lee were among those who pushed him to become a better student and excel in more difficult subjects, like Introduction to Electronics and Electrodynamics.
“What impressed me was not only his intelligence and diligence but also his attitude toward his studies,” said Lee. “He was very enthusiastic about learning these courses.”
Thornton said that his education at BU prepared him for both the research and business sides of his work.
“BU gave me exposure to people who were studying all sorts of different things – not just engineering,” said Thornton. “This helped prepare me for the business world where things don’t fit into neat buckets and gave me a large network to call on when I needed help.”
It’s safe to say that Thornton will continue to apply both his education and business know-how as ParkWhiz continues to grow in the years to come.
-Rachel Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org)