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Seeing opportunity in city parking stress

Finding a parking spot in the city on the night of the big game could be as easy as posting a comment on Facebook or downloading a song on iTunes, say Northeastern University students Chris Hoogewerff and Neil Hannah.

The two young entrepreneurs recently created Hello Parking, an online service that will allow customers in Boston to reserve private parking spots for $15 per day on any mobile device with Internet access.

Hoogewerff and Hannah, who plan to pay landlords and property owners a monthly fee to manage as many as 200 vacant parking spots behind buildings, in alleys and in private lots, hope to expand the service to frustrated drivers in Chicago, New York and San Francisco within the next 18 months.

“We’re taking the stress out of finding a parking spot,” says Hoogewerff, a junior entrepreneurship and accounting dual major who likens Hello Parking to a “virtual flag-waving system.”

As Hannah, a senior mechanical engineering major, puts it, “We want to be a large crowd-sourcing garage that we own, but don’t have to build ourselves.”

Hoogewerff and Hannah pitched their idea to angel investors and venture capitalists on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Feb. 27, as part of the third annual Kairos Society Global Summit. The meeting brings together the brightest students from around the globe to tackle worldwide problems.

The duo is seeking $50,000 to get Hello Parking up and running in Boston within the next six weeks, and met with three angel investors at the New York event, who asked the young entrepreneurs to send them their business plan.

“Our venture is low-risk for these investors,” says Hoogewerff, who left the summit with a huge stack of business cards and a new crop of networking contacts in Germany, England and China. “The concept we’re presenting is simple, but it promises to solve a problem affecting almost any driver in all of the major cities we’ll be targeting.”

Frederick Crane, an executive professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern, helped Hoogewerff and Hannah formulate their business plan for Hello Parking. The student-entrepreneurs, he said, have found a “veiled opportunity” in an otherwise untapped market.

“It looks like Hello Parking is becoming a reality,” he said. “The students found a source of supply for a commodity in demand and made this match so that buyer and seller both win while Hello Parking gets a piece of this exchange process.”

Hello Parking, Hannah estimates, could be worth as much as $5 million in the next five years, but that’s loose change compared to the $300 million company he and Hoogewerff plan to build.

The long-term goal, says Hannah, is to develop a real-time vacancy outsourcing application through which customers can purchase a parking spot in any lot or garage for a competitive rate.

“We want to disrupt the market by undercutting garage owners and offering an alternative for them to profit even further through Hello Parking,” says Hannah, who compares this business model to that of Amazon or Expedia. “We want to be the name that people recognize when it comes to parking.”