Meet PE Finalist Jennifer Ding, Founder of ParkIT
We sat down with #PEIntensive17 finalist Jennifer Ding, Founder of ParkIT, a system that collects real-time data to help drivers find parking and lot operators manage their spaces. Jennifer discusses the pain of looking for a parking spot, winning the “Park Tank” competition, and how ParkIT is advancing the industry.
Tell us about your company.
ParkIT is a computer vision/machine learning startup using our patent-pending algorithms to transform cameras into real-time parking data collection devices. Our live parking availability data can help drivers find parking, lot operators better manage their spaces, and cities reduce traffic and air pollution.
What is the mission of your company and what is it attempting to change in the world?
Today we can choose routes to our destination based on live traffic from Google maps and our cars are beginning to drive themselves. ParkIT’s mission is to help the parking industry advance along with the rest of Smart Transportation and address the last-mile issue of helping drivers find a parking space once they have reached their destination.
Where does your passion for this business stem from?
ParkIT was founded by Electrical Engineers at Rice university. We’ve all experienced the pain or circling and circling for an open space. When we learned that a major reason real-time data was not available was because of the high cost of the existing solutions to collect it – sensors that have to be installed on every space – we wanted to come up with a better way. At the time the computer vision field was starting to grow quickly and it has been an awesome opportunity to explore new algorithms and apply them to real-world parking lots.
When did you know you had a good idea on your hands?
We spent our first summer trekking around humid Houston parking lots meeting with parking operators. The positive response from those teams to our product is why we exist today. We learned that many parking teams rely on manual counting methods to collect their lot utilization data – people circling around counting cars every day! Part of our motivation was definitely finding a way to automate this data collection process. After a summer in parking lots in the Houston heat, I felt motivated to reduce the amount of time others would have to do the same.
Another moment was last May when we pitched at the International Parking Institute “Park Tank” competition. It was exciting to present to hundreds of industry professionals and even more so when the judging panel chose ParkIT as the winner.
What has been the most difficult thing you’ve faced on this journey so far and what’s been the greatest reward?
The highs and lows of startup life are a familiar roller coaster to any founder. I’ve found the most difficult thing to be keeping my team motivated during long periods of bootstrapping, especially in an industry with very long sales cycles. However, it has been rewarding to keep building resilience and proving to myself what I am capable of. Any challenge is an opportunity to learn something new and grow as a person.
What has motivated you most throughout your entrepreneurship journey?
Talking with customers. Every conversation with a parking team about how ParkIT can help them cut out daily struggles, optimize their business, and improve the driver experience is inspiring. That is definitely what keeps me going.
What words of wisdom would you share with other new entrepreneurs?
You may not be ready now. You may not be the perfect person for this job. But you’re here and every step forward brings you one step closer to building your company and becoming the right person. Enjoy the journey.