Alumni startup ‘Parking Bee’ works to make parking more affordable

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — While interning with Merrill Lynch two summers ago, Mike Black found his weekly commute into New York City was costing him $45 a day in parking fees alone.

One time, though, Black was able to borrow a parking spot free of charge when his friend went on vacation.   

“That’s when it hit me,” said Black, who graduated from Penn State in 2016 with a degree in finance. “I would have happily paid $30 a day to rent my friend’s space. And he was gone for a whole week — he could have made $150 on his spot.”

Black, who said he has always been an entrepreneur, took that single idea and transformed it into Parking Bee. The startup’s mission is to “make parking more affordable and more convenient” in State College, though Black already has his eyes set on Pittsburgh, too.

He’s rented spaces from entire fraternity parking lots, as well as individual spaces from businesses, property managers and students.

“Eventually, we want to have 300 spaces listed every weekend,” Black said. “That’s going to happen with time. Right now, we’re working on figuring out our distribution and scaling.”

Black said he’s learned from his past mistakes, like focusing on getting an app developer early in the game instead of creating a simple Weebly website to foster a customer development model.

Yet, as Parking Bee refined its approach, this IT barrier was removed with the assistance of Lion LaunchPad, a business accelerator program at Penn State.

Anne Hoag, the co-director of Lion LaunchPad and director of the Intercollege Minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, or ENTI, said the initiative is the “one place that undergraduates can go for very specific mentoring and microgrants.”

Lion LaunchPad is Undergraduate Education’s featured unit for #GivingTuesday, the global day of giving celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. Please support Penn State’s entrepreneurial students by giving to Lion LaunchPad on Nov. 28 and 29 here.

“Often, students just need small amounts of money to make a really big difference,” Hoag said. “We’ve paid for students to finance their prototyping. We’ve financed students to file their incorporation papers. We’ve financed students who are doing customer research.”

Hoag and Peter Whalen, Lion LaunchPad co-director and clinical associate professor of entrepreneurship, help students craft their presentations before they’re ready for an official pitching session. The program, Hoag said, is a “critical piece of the Penn State entrepreneurship ecosystem.”

“We meet with students when they need to,” Hoag said. “We mentor them, give them advice, and help shape their business concepts.”

Parking Bee was awarded a grant to support developer and website hosting — the necessary tools to help the startup move to its next phase, Hoag said.

Black also credits two Penn State business and entrepreneurial-oriented organizations — the Nittany Consulting Group and the Happy Valley LaunchBox — for providing him with the background to pursue Parking Bee.

Black said the business is pivoting, with its new mission centered on devising a comparative listing of all available parking spaces in State College. The goal is to force parking garages to lower prices, which will ultimately benefit customers.

“If they choose the garage space, they won’t do the transaction through us,” Black said. “But, we’ll direct them there, and they can pull up a map and see everything. The reason we do that is so the customer can truly pick the most affordable and the most convenient space.”

From a business perspective, Black said the plan will bolster Parking Bee’s “growth engine,” which currently relies on its customer referral program. With increased word of mouth marketing, Black expects the company will go viral.

This past summer, the business had a cohort of interns responsible for product development, marketing and distribution. About 20 interns and brand ambassadors are a part of the Parking Bee team this fall semester.

“I really enjoy empowering people,” Black said. “Everyone I put on the team, I encourage them to make the change that we’re trying to make.”

Aside from his team, Black said the most satisfying part of Parking Bee is receiving customer reviews. “People tell us that, because of Parking Bee, they’ve been able to save money, either through renting their space or finding a cheaper one. At the end of the day, that’s the most satisfying part of starting your own business — knowing you’re making an impact.”

Lion LaunchPad is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.

Giving Tuesday

This story is part of a four-part series highlighting successful student startups that benefited from Penn State’s Lion LaunchPad, Undergraduate Education’s featured unit for #GivingTuesday. #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Nov. 29.

Please consider supporting Penn State’s entrepreneurial students by giving to Lion LaunchPad on Nov. 28 and 29 here. If you are unable to make a gift on those days but would still like to support Penn State students, visit the Lion LaunchPad giving page.

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Last Updated November 22, 2016