Easy, affordable parking in Boston? Good luck. But maybe it’s about to get a little easier with the help of Parkaze, a parking spot rental app founded by Amal Radhakrishnan (MET’19). Initially created during Boston Hacks 2018, he and his team are getting closer to launching their fully functional mobile app. In preparation for the big launch, he’s splitting his team between Innovate@BU’s BUild Lab, BU Spark!, and Dallas, Texas, where Parkaze has a spot in TechWildcatters, one of the country’s top accelerator programs.
INNOVATE@BU: How do you create innovation and what problem are youe hoping to solve?
AMAL RADHAKRISHNAN: Parkaze is a hassle-free, community-powered parking and navigation platform where you can host and rent privately owned parking spots.
We found out that people in America waste 73 billion dollars in search of parking. Interestingly, 30% of all parking spots in cities are privately owned by small businesses and individual homeowners and renters like you and me are left vacant when we go to work or school. And when people actually want to rent out these spots, they have been using unorthodox methods, from flyers on trees to Craigslist postings.
Through the Parkaze platform, as the owner of the spot, you get a seamless experience to leverage your privately owned parking spot to earn money with complete control over its pricing, availability, and rules. As a renter, you can find affordable and safe alternatives to private garages wherever you go and wherever you go.
Tell us, how did Parkaze begin and what inspired you to do this?
Parkaze was started as a hackathon project at Boston Hacks 2018. We went on to win in three categories, one of which was the BU Spark! Innovation Fellowship. The main inspiration behind Parkaze is deeply rooted in our fundamental belief that when a group of diverse people comes together with passion and grit we can create amazing new experiences and build sustainable smarter cities of the future, the same goes for super hosts and renters in our platform.
Taking on the parking industry is where we started, based on our personal experiences with driving around blocks in Boston in search of parking during a Redsox game or even the moving season of late August.
It is vitally important that we utilize our existing resources when it comes to parking. It’s an industry that could improve drastically with rapid technological advancement and infrastructure deployment. Making privately owned parking spots more publicly accessible through a seamless platform can help the owner to earn more money, reduce parking costs, save our land area, reduce time and fuel consumption involved in the search for parking and create sustainable ways to build our smarter cities.
What has been the biggest challenge or obstacle you had to overcome in your role or for your new venture? How did you do it? What did you learn from the experience?
We were able to implement a proof of concept web application during BostonHacks 2018. Building a team and venture around this accomplishment was a big challenge that we had to go through. The BU Spark! Program guided us with help validation, customer interviews, and advice on how to build the mobile application for our use case. It also provided us with part-time students with UX and software development experience who added on to the experiences of our team.
Another big challenge was working towards a venture as a group of international students. The BU law clinic has been supporting us with providing help in setting up an LLC and then also converting into a C-corp for attracting venture capital investments.
So with a fair set of challenges, even as international students, we continue to learn and build from our experiences in the world of entrepreneurship.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own innovation journey right now?
Always believe in your idea and ask yourselves “why” you are doing this. The “why” is always more important than “what” you are building and “how” you are building it.
Thomas Edison said “our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” You are not alone in this because if you are a BU Terrier or a group of BU Terriers, we have great resources at the University to guide us to take the next steps in whatever we aim to build.
What has been the biggest win so far?
Getting into the fall 2019 Tech Wildcatters Accelerator, one of the top-ranked US accelerator programs based in Dallas, Texas. It feels amazing to accomplish this feet and I am proud of my team for getting Parkaze there even at this very early stage. Together we worked hard during the BU Spark! Innovation fellowship where we built out our MVP and attained initial traction in the greater Boston area and this helped us immensely to get to the next level of VC funding. It’s also really exciting to work alongside six other startups. As international students and first-time founders, getting personal level support from a program like this has been very important for us.
What meaningful impact are you hoping to create from this venture or project? What are you and your team working on to get there?
The impact that we hope to make is to build a strong community around Parkaze, make parking easier, affordable and sustainable. We are trying to get there one step at a time through our web and mobile platforms, expanding our reach in the greater Boston area.
We launched our web platform in August 2019 and currently, we have 40 spots under management with 26 users. We are currently going through the final phase of our mobile app development and hope to launch it for iOS users by early 2020.
What resources have been most helpful to you?
The BUild Lab space and the BU Spark! Program has helped Parkaze a lot over the last six months. The Spark! program gave the initial structure to our team and took us through a mentor and class-driven approach to building out our ideas.
Additionally, the BU Startup Law Clinic helped us to legally form Parkaze as a company, and to generate our terms and privacy policies. The Tech Wildcatters accelerator program has been providing us with valuable mentorship, investment networking opportunities in Texas and pre-seed funding. We have also received a great deal on technology partnerships as we go through this accelerator program.
What’s something we might be surprised to know about you?
I have flown 30,000 miles in the last month. Yes, I travel a lot.