Led By 3 College Students, Vade Seeks To Redefine Parking

Vade Park CEO Ritwik Pavan (second from left) and CFO Matthew Schaefer (second from right) accept first place in the late-stage startup category at UNC's Carolina Challenge on Nov. 8.

Vade’s three college student founders — Ritwik Pavan, Matthew Schaefer and Christian Burke — are betting that the future of technology isn’t so much in the software or hardware, but in the data.

“It’s almost like the new age of commodities,” said CFO Matthew Schaefer, a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill. “They used to mine oil or gas to build products out of it. But instead of a physical product, now it’s data.”

The Chapel Hill-based parking data company developed a camera that utilizes computer vision and machine learning and can cover 10 to 15 parking spots at a time and tell when each spot is open or occupied.

Companies that enforce parking for local governments will then be given access to this data so it can be cross-checked with their own data on expired spots, leading to a 100 percent success rate for ticketing violators. Vade’s technology will be extensively beta-tested in a real-world setting starting in January in Pennsylvania.

The idea for the company came about shortly after Pavan, a UNC-Chapel Hill junior and the company’s CEO, met NC State junior Christian Burke, who is now Vade’s CTO.

Burke had been at a party giving away his product, the Juul Spinner — a spinning toy with an electronic cigarette attached — when a mutual friend introduced them. Later, Burke received a call from Pavan, and was captivated by the idea he pitched.

“Ritwik called me as I was getting out of the shower one day and said, ‘Christian, what do you think about an Airbnb for parking?’” Burke said.

Pavan and Schaefer receive congratulations for winning their category at the Carolina Challenge.

Pavan then called Schaefer, a classmate with a knack for technology and half a million YouTube subscribers on his tech and business channel, and asked him to come aboard.

Since then, Pavan, Schaefer and Burke have pivoted to parking data and are building out their software along with a prototype of the special camera.

They have already raised $70K in committed capital from friends and family and have enough runway until March of 2019.

The company is planning to use this money to test their product in Schaefer’s hometown of Radnor, Pa., with parking enforcement partner United Public Safety starting in January. Testing will help the trio decide what they can charge, what parking spots are worth covering and how fast they can scale.

Before they do that, though, Burke said they need to work out some issues with the product to make sure testing runs smoothly: “The main problem that we’re having right now is we have to test our software, test our hardware and just find out all the kinks before we can really start selling.”

If all goes well, the company wants to rapidly expand to the 150 cities where United Public Safety operates so they can gain an advantage over copycats. Though landing the test itself already cleared a significant hurdle, given that United Public Safety told them at first that their idea was a stretch.

“The first email back, they said it’s just not economical for cities under 250K,” Schaefer said. “But I said, Just wait until you hear the model.”

In contrast to competitors like Streetline and Passport that focus on Tier One cities and integrate their technology directly with the governments, Vade is focusing on cities with a population between 30K-300K and giving government contractors access to their API instead of dealing directly with the governments.

Although they are focusing on making it easier for parking enforcement agencies to ticket parking violators, Pavan said the founders imagine themselves expanding and selling an analysis of their data to cities, transportation companies and car manufacturers.

“Our end goal is to help drivers find and pay for parking,” he said.

Burke said whatever happens during their testing in January will decide the next steps for Vade, but he thinks this product can change the entire parking industry.

“People should be excited about this,” he said. “Once this is ready and we actually release it to the public, life is going to get a lot easier.”

About Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez 26 Articles
As a reporter at GrepBeat, Marco writes about startups and innovation and enjoys writing about entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. He is a junior studying business journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Reach him at marco@grepbeat.com or on twitter @marcoquiroz10.