This startup lets strangers into your garage (but in a good way)

Andreas Rekdal

Over the past few years, companies like Uber and Airbnb have increasingly blurred the lines between private and public goods. For tech-savvy consumers, getting into a stranger’s car or crashing in a stranger’s apartment feels just as natural as flagging down a taxi or booking a hotel room.

Chicago startup ParqEx wants to make the same thing happen with parking spots.

“We are the Airbnb for parking,” said founder Vivek Mehra. “If you had a parking spot that was sitting idle, whether it’s nine to five, nights or weekends, you can rent it out on the platform. And on the renter side you can get convenient, affordable parking that wouldn’t otherwise be available.”

Mehra said private parking spots are a prime commodity in a city like Chicago. As areas like the West Loop, Bucktown and Wicker Park increasingly become hubs for commerce, the supply of parking spaces for commuters and visitors has not kept up with demand — particularly for those who need to park for more than a few hours. As a result, travelers frequently find themselves circling block after block for open street parking.

ParqEx lets real estate developers, homeowners, churches, schools and businesses set their own rates in helping to meet that demand.

Mehra said the idea for his company came about because of the lack of parking in his own neighborhood. Whenever he had friends over, he’d pay his neighbors to use parking spaces he knew were sitting vacant.

“It just seemed like a common sense thing to do,” said Mehra. “You have a resource, I need it. Why not just barter for it?”

After exiting from his last company, MonAlarm, in 2014, he decided to launch a company centered around exactly that kind of bartering.

ParqEx is hardly the first company to arrive at the “Airbnb for parking” model, but Mehra said his company has a few big advantages. ParqEx has been hard at work developing relationships both on the supply and the demand side, and the rise of the sharing economy has made consumers more comfortable with renting from each other.

But the company’s biggest differentiator, said Mehra, is a proprietary wireless device that lets users control garage doors from within the app. This feature increases supply in high-demand areas by letting users book unused spots in condo building garages.

Although it is currently focusing on expanding its market share in Chicago, the seven-person startup has seen organic user growth in places like Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Madison.

The company is planning to officially expand beyond Chicago in early 2017.

Images via ParqEx.

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