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Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2017, click here.
With many major universities nationwide charging $500 or more a year for parking, two students at Arizona State University created a company to alleviate stress associated with finding affordable parking options near campus.
“Parking is so expensive,” said Jonathon Barkl, a physics and economics major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “We want to make it more accessible and affordable for students who traditionally can’t park on campus because of the price.”
In September 2016, Barkl and Scott Fitsimones, a computer science major in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, founded AirGarage — an online marketplace for people to list, find and book parking spaces in Tempe, Arizona. For example, a homeowner with enough room in a driveway for an extra car could list that spot and a driver needing to park in that area could rent it. The students are striving to generate value for both parties by creating a market for extra space on private property that may not have previously been thought of as available parking.
“There are a couple other companies that manage parking, but they mostly create value for the parking garage,” said Barkl. “AirGarage is creating new supply to meet the excess demand in parking, which will add new value for two different groups who haven’t seen value for their homes or cars in years.”
After surveying 250 students, Barkl and Fitsimones found nearly 33 percent of the students don’t park on campus, citing prices as the biggest factor in their decision. And, despite paying for parking, a majority of students still walk anywhere from five to 15 minutes to get to their classes.
Currently, AirGarage is focused on helping ASU students find parking close to campus. The student co-founders plan to partner with the city of Tempe to reduce congestion and limit the need for more parking facilities.
“We’re trying to connect people with the untapped resource sitting all around us,” said Barkl.
AirGarage has about 36 spots listed at the moment. As Barkl and Fitsimones figure out how to grow and scale the company, they want to branch out to other universities. From there, the students want to expand to other areas around the country that have parking shortages as well.
“We’ve developed this car culture over the past 100 years, yet the biggest nuisance of our daily lives is finding somewhere to put the 2-ton hunk of steel we use to carry us around every day,” said Barkl. “It’s a little ridiculous that we haven’t come up with a better solution to this problem.”
In November 2016, Barkl and Fitsimones competed in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering eSeed Challenge, a competition hosted through ASU’s Entrepreneurship + Innovation division that encourages students to make a difference in local and global communities through innovation.
After being selected as one of the top ventures, the students won $6,000 in seed funding and an all-expenses-paid innovation field trip to advance their startup, which was hosted by Tom Prescott — the former president, CEO and director of Align Technology Inc.
The students also received guidance from Brent Sebold, the executive director of venture development at Entrepreneurship + Innovation in ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.
“ASU’s entrepreneurship resources were really helpful in being able to found this company,” said Barkl. “They plugged us into a network of bright, successful entrepreneurs, which helped us formulate and develop the idea further.”
In addition, Barkl and Fitsimones took advantage of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Innovation Advancement Program, which pairs emerging technology companies with ASU’s brightest law students to help solidify a startup’s legal foundation, including the creation of user agreements and contracts.
“ASU’s commitment to innovation has provided the perfect market to help us prove our idea,” said Barkl. “If AirGarage can become a successful startup, it’ll inspire other students and foster a startup culture in the Phoenix metro area.”
For students who want to launch similar ventures, Barkl advised them to just get started. He said it has been a daunting task to start a company going into his junior year of college, but he’s determined to pursue the challenge.
“Taking the first step is the hardest part,” said Barkl. “But if I can create value for people in some way, then I’ve had my impact on the world. My desire to have an impact on people is what drives me.”