‘Miami can compete against Silicon Valley,’ ParkJockey co-founder says

January 12, 2019

South Florida’s technology sector was in the spotlight again after gaining another startup valued over $1 billion.

Thank ParkJockey for the national attention: In December, the Miami-based parking technology scored hundreds of millions of dollars in investment from SoftBank, a giant Japanese corporation that has backed some of the most valuable startups in the world, including Uber and WeWork.

It was the type of deal ParkJockey co-founder Umut Tekin expects to see more of in the local startup scene.

“I think more companies like us will appear on the map after this,” he told the Business Journal. “Miami can be a hub and compete against the San Francisco Bay area.”

Tekin said he found the same tools to scale his business that would have been available to him in bigger cities, along with perks such as a comparably lower cost of living. Tekin is bullish on the local tech ecosystem, which was as good a place as any to not only ink the significant investment deal from SoftBank, but also acquire Imperial Parking Corp. (Impark) and Citizens Parking. The acquisition is expected to close in 2019.

“We really bet on Miami,” Tekin said. “It was a good hub to incubate and grow.”

Tekin launched ParkJockey with Ari Ojalvo in 2013, a year before Plantation-based Magic Leap (now valued at $2.44 billion) became the first technology startup in the tri-county area to reach “unicorn” status with investments totaling over $1 billion.

The co-founders met in 1998 while attending Northwestern University as undergraduates. Tekin would also get his MBA at the Illinois school’s Kellogg School of Management. Ojalvo studied industrial engineering.

Tekin worked in the software industry and consulted for a number of years before deciding to become an entrepreneur. His first step was to identify an industry in need of innovation.

“I thought: Why don’t I pick an industry that’s really old-fashioned and make a change with technology?” he said.

When he came to the parking industry, he found it to be a painful experience for both consumers and businesses. Inefficiency was the main issue: There weren’t enough automation or digital payments, he said.

Tekin launched IWantToPark.com in Chicago. His target customer was headed to concerts and other events and wanted to book parking spots in advance.

He met up with Ojalvo to talk about the concept and, over dinner, the two decided to bring the business model to Miami because of its steady schedule of sporting and entertainment events.

“It was an untapped market. It wasn’t like Chicago or other big cities, but it was still growing,” Umut said. “It had the potential and foundation, so we decided to get our company jumpstarted in Miami – and I moved down.”

Umut and Ojalvo founded ParkJockey shortly after the move and shifted the focus of the business from an events-centered venture to a real estate play.

“We have smarter phones. The cars are getting connected. But the real estate is not connected right now, and the parking lots are not connected,” Umut said. “They need to be brought onto the grid.”

The startup’s big buy will put under one umbrella Impark’s 3,600 facilities in more than 330 cities across the U.S. and Canada, and Citizens Parking’s 300,000 parking spaces across 1,100 locations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

“We were able to pull it off by finding investors who were interested in making a big play like this happen,” Umut said. “Miami … does have an investment base and angel investors to get things started. I don’t see any reason why Miami can’t be a big tech hub one day.”


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