Hans Smith, a third-year student in the Earle Mack School of Law, was part of the entrepreneurial team that won first place at the Philadelphia Startup Weekend competition held Oct. 14-16 on Drexel’s campus.
Smith beat 54 other business groups to win the event with his idea of the “Eff the PPA” iPhone application, an app that quickly provides location-specific information about on-street parking options, the amount of time left on a meter and strategies for getting parking tickets thrown out in court.
“Basically it shows you the parking rules, lets you set a reminder or alarm, lets you collect time/location-stamped ‘evidence’ pictures and lets you submit an appeal to an attorney,” Smith wrote in an email.
The other members of Smith’s team who helped him develop his idea were Ashwin Dhir, a businessman, Steve High, a web and mobile application developer and Ted Mann, CEO of SnipSnap, a startup funded and incubated at DreamIt Venture. Each teammate won a Dell Duo Inspiron tablet; an Xbox 360 with Kinect; free legal consulting services from Dell Boomi, Microsoft, Morgan Lewis and Volpe Koenig; and admission to a conference on the Future of Web Design in New York City.
Smith’s iPhone application will not be available immediately for download, as a name change might have to occur before it appears on iTunes.
“I don’t think the iTunes App Store allows vulgar or obscene names for applications, so we might not be allowed to use that name. People do love it though, so we’ll try to keep it,” Smith said.
According to Smith, the idea to create an app that, in other words, helps its users outsmart the Philadelphia Parking Authority, came when OpenDataPhilly.org, an interactive website that allows people to search through data sets, applications and APIs related to the Philadelphia region, launched during Philly Tech Week in May of 2010.
“I thought it would be awesome if PPA would share the block-by-block data about the parking rules so that someone could build a nice iPhone app to clarify things for everyone. I posted the idea on the OpenDataPhilly site, but later found out that PPA is a state agency, so it kind of died there,” he said.
He added, “Oddly enough, I don’t even have a car! I have gotten one ticket, while moving between apartments in the city, and a lot of my friends in the law school get tickets from parking on Market Street near the gym building. It seems like a huge problem, and when I occasionally look at the signs on the street, I always think, ‘That is really hard to understand.’”
Smith was inspired to submit his idea to the event, which enables entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs to create a web or mobile application that could form the groundwork of a business program during the course of the 54-hour weekend, by Karl Okamoto, who directs the law school’s Business and Entrepreneurship Law Program.
“My professor, Karl Okamoto, had been to the last Philadelphia Startup Weekend and highly recommended it. I also have a bit of a background in entrepreneurism and business plan development, and I thought it would be fun. Also, I’m currently working in the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic at the law school, and we are trying to get very involved in the startup community in the city,” he said.
Okamoto noted that three of the top 20 ideas awarded at the event were proposed by students from the University.
“I think everyone on our team was completely shocked when we won. There were a lot of really impressive projects from the weekend that accomplished a lot more than we did in terms of technical development,” Smith said.
The startup competition, which is sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation, has events held worldwide during the same weekend for business and technology entrepreneurs. The Earle Mack School of Law held one of seven events in the U.S., with others occurring in Boston, San Diego, Puerto Rico and Malaysia, among others.
The Startup Weekend kicked off Friday with 60-second-long open-mic pitch ideas in order to interest others in joining their team. During the weekend, teams focused on customer development, determining their ideas, practicing lean startup methodologies and building a minimal product. On Sunday evening the teams demonstrated their model and acquired feedback from a panel of experts, who were local technology and business leaders.
“The purpose of Startup Weekend is really to spread the idea of entrepreneurism through hands-on learning, which can help build a stronger startup community. Once that is accomplished, the economic advantages are obvious,” Brad Oyler, a software developer and one of the organizers of the event, explained in an email.
More than 36 percent of the ideas born at Startup Weekends continue with their plans after three months’ time.
“We encourage and promote continued contact with the mentors and advisers and the organizers look to support the winners all the teams participating with resources and guidance to help them develop their products and apps into full-fledged businesses,” Yuriy Porytko, the other event organizer who is a principal at Adapt Technical Group, wrote in an email.
He added, “Although the goal is to build a mobile or web-based app, the most value people receive is the networking and access and introductions to mentors, advisers and resources to help build, grow and develop your startup.”
The next Philadelphia Startup Weekend is already being planned for some time in April 2012, according to Porytko. The organizers have plans to have at least two events in Philadelphia per year.
A demo of Smith’s application can be found at http://blog.efftheppa.com/iphone-app-demo/.