UI grad takes tech to parking

UI grad takes tech to parking

CHAMPAIGN — University of Illinois alum Bob Youakim settled into investment banking after graduate school, but left it a few years ago to pursue a career in parking.

Not as a parking valet, but as managing partner of a venture that helps cities and other entities manage parking better through technology.

PassportParking, the Charlotte, N.C.-based company that Youakim and his cousin, Charlie, founded, is working with several major cities, including Chicago, Toronto, and Omaha, Neb., to help handle parking more efficiently.

Now he hopes Champaign will consider his firm as the city investigates mobile applications that allow people to pay for parking with smartphones.

"Operators want to make as much money as possible and operate as efficiently as possible," Youakim said, and PassportParking aims to provide them with the tools for that.

Those tools, which include mobile apps for parking and transportation, can give cities access to real-time reporting of data and analytics that can help with decision-making.

There are also advantages for those paying for parking. They can use the apps to add time to meters about to expire.

"For the consumer, the big advantage is convenience. You don't have to run to the meter and feed it. We can send you a reminder," Youakim said.

PassportParking also has applications available that can help consumers reserve parking for events, he said.

Youakim, 36, who received his undergraduate degree from the UI in 1999, went to graduate school at Northwestern and eventually went to work for Wachovia Securities. But he decided he wanted to do something different, so in 2010, he and his cousin founded PassportParking in hopes of making an impact.

"There are few times when you get to create and define an industry," he said.

Today, PassportParking has close to 40 people on staff and about $7 million of funding, including investments from Grotech Ventures, based in the Washington, D.C., area, and Relevance Capital, based in Nashville, Tenn.

The company supports mobile payments for parking for cities and universities throughout the country, including Chicago, where PassportParking powers mobile payments for the city's 36,000 parking spaces. It's a "private-label" system, in which the company provides technology for ParkChicago.com.

PassportParking is implementing mobile payments for the bus system in Columbia, S.C., so users can pay their bus fares through mobile phones.

Mobile payments are relatively new, so there are few players in the market, Youakim said. But some of the major competitors include Parkmobile USA, based in Atlanta, and PayByPhone, based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Youakim said his family has several ties to East Central Illinois. His parents, Marcel and Anne Youakim, moved to Champaign-Urbana from Jerusalem in the 1940s to go to school, and after locating in the Chicago area, ended up retiring to Charleston.

Bob's brother, Dominique, owns Central Illinois Air, the fixed-base operator at Coles County Airport. Bob's aunt, Diana Youakim, runs Nana's Home Daycare in Urbana, and his cousin, Michael Poor, operates an arborist business in Urbana.

Youakim said other parts of the world have adopted mobile payment solutions faster than the U.S. has. In Tel Aviv, for example, mobile pay is used not only for parking, but also for gasoline and car washes, he said.

"I don't think we're there quite yet," he said. "They're probably five to 10 years ahead (of us)."

Youakim said he tends to handle the sales, operations and finance side of PassportParking, while Charlie Youakim centers on technology. But both of them, he said, have "a shared strategy and vision."