SMITH BRAIN TRUST — The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach provided a suitable venue for the National Parking Association’s most recent convention for at least two reasons. Besides the luxury accommodations, the buzzing nightlife at the hotel creates one of the hardest valet parking jobs in the country. “You need 45 runners on a midnight shift,” says former University of Maryland football player Sam Medile, an angel investor and serial entrepreneur who made his mark in the parking industry.
Medile draws upon ideas from the convention and his own observations in episode two of Bootstrapped, a podcast series hosted by Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship director Elana Fine and professor Joseph P. Bailey, executive director of the QUEST honors program at the University of Maryland. Specifically, Medile talks about parking innovations, investing tips and his next big idea.
GET SMITH BRAIN TRUST DELIVERED
TO YOUR INBOX EVERY WEEK
Change has come slowly on the hardware side of the parking industry, where a handful of entrenched manufacturers dominate the market for ticket spitters, meters and other not-so-smart machines. “They may have a piece of equipment that’s been sitting on a property for four, five, six, seven years,” Medile says. “Our industry is a drag-along industry.”
Gradually, he says, manufacturers are waking up to ideas like smartphone apps that talk to pay stations. “That’s the next generation of equipment that’s happening at some of the larger equipment makers,” he says. “They know it’s coming.”
Medile says the splashier innovation is happening on the software side of the industry. “Everyone’s trying to capture the digital space,” he says.
As an angel investor, Medile looks for opportunities in any industry. But investing in what he knows best gives him key advantages. For starters, he doesn’t have to rely so much on outside experts, so he can maintain control over the investment rather than cheer from the sidelines. “You still have to invest in the shiny objects,” he says. “But at the end of the day, I’m a parking guy.”
Medile also says entrepreneurs can find market gaps by looking for neglected “verticals” within any industry. If an idea like OffAirportParking.com helps travelers at airports, for example, then why not try something similar at hospitals, sports arenas or universities?
Next big idea
Medile’s next big idea revolves around one of these neglected verticals. During a recent tour of universities with his son, a high school student looking at colleges, Medile noticed the high fees for on-campus parking. “I thought, ‘Wow.’ What a perfect business opportunity,” he says. “There’s land around an airport, and it’s cheaper to park off airport. So why not do something similar with colleges?”
When he got home, he immediately bought the domain offcampusparking.com. “I’m actually excited about it,” he says.