Alumnus' smartphone apps make for smarter, cheaper parking
Who they are
A native of Northwest Indiana and Naperville in the Chicago suburbs, Nick Capizzani was a frequent visitor to the Windy City. Chicago was his kind of town, but as a not-so-wealthy Purdue student this traveling habit presented a problem: parking. It wasn’t cheap to park in the city and Capizzani could never quite figure out how to find the best deal, or find a good place to park when visiting a new neighborhood.
He wondered if there might be a smartphone application that could help. When he couldn’t find one, the computer and information technology student (now a graduate) decided to fill a market niche. The result is his company Mobile Parking Apps, a new career and a condo in Chicago with its own parking space.
What they're doing
Capizzani is building mobile parking applications for use in cities around the country, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and San Diego, with more to come. They’ll offer the same features as the Chicago parking app that launched the venture, including an interactive map of parking garages and other parking facilities, with standard rates, early bird specials, virtual coupons, and space availability and reservations where available.
His parking-related side projects include an app that clues long-haul truckers, who by law have to pull over and rest periodically, into open space at truck stops and other locations to help reduce the safety issue raised by the line of trucks parked alongside many highway ramps.
How they got there
When Capizzani invested the initial $500 in his venture (mostly on an Apple developers license, registering his trademark and website hosting) he just hoped to make his money back. He put the Chicago app together by teaching himself to build Apple iOS applications and making weekend and sometimes weekday trips to Chicago. While his girlfriend drove, he gathered data on parking facilities.
As the initial app gained momentum, largely by online word of mouth, he started making hundreds of dollars. That turned into thousands of dollars after he dedicated a Purdue spring break to pitching his story to Chicago TV and radio stations and newspapers, as well as to some Chicago parking management companies, who saw the app as a new way to advertise to core customers. The attention attracted ParkingCarma, a well-established California-based "SmartParking" company with a national reach, which eventually bought Capizzani’s venture and hired him as mobile product manager.
Capizzani built his business in the same hands-on way he built his product. He researched books about how to start a business and settled on "Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants." He used LegalZoom to establish his company and set up a trademark. Purdue now offers courses in building mobile apps through the College of Technology and the Purdue Research Foundation's Office of Technology Commercialization has established a service, for students as well as faculty, to quickly test, commercialize and market mobile applications in partnership with the Purdue 3iD program.
"Think what can you do yourself before you pay someone else to do it," Capizzani says. "I was my accountant. I was public relations. I was the developer."