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Thursday January 20th

UNC alumni try to make the most of Chapel Hill parking through new startup

The homepage of Float’s website from which a user can search for different parking locations.
Buy Photos The homepage of Float’s website from which a user can search for different parking locations.

Ask any student who’s moved off campus, or any first-year who’s been denied a parking space on campus: finding a long-term parking spot can feel like a treasure hunt.

Three 2020 graduates from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School are scoping out unorthodox parking spaces and connecting renters to hosts through their newly launched startup, Float Parking.

Co-founder and CEO Bryan Guin said through its free platform, Float provides month-to-month parking space rentals. Hosts can list their parking spaces, as renters look through listings for the option that best fits their needs.

“We realized that this sort of a website could be really useful, especially in college campuses where there are huge student populations that are transient, in that they come in during the school year and then they leave,” Guin said.

UNC origins

Guin was one of those first-years who needed a car but couldn’t get a parking spot. UNC’s Traffic and Parking Ordinance prohibits first-years from parking on campus, though they make exceptions for hardship circumstances.

Guin said he relied on Craigslist at the time to get a spot and ended up making a deal to park in a stranger’s driveway at a poor price and location. He said Float aims to resolve a common issue in Chapel Hill, where parking can be expensive and hard to secure.

Meg McGurk, community safety planner with the Town of Chapel Hill Police Department, said the town offers some monthly rented parking in off-street lots and a downtown parking deck. The waitlist for those spots currently has up to 400 people with the parking rate going up on Aug. 1, she said.

UNC Transportation and Parking Director Cheryl Stout said her department doesn’t have available statistics on previous parking registrations, and figures for the current lottery aren’t final. 

“Preliminarily, however, we believe that this year’s registration has been steady,” Stout said in an email statement via UNC Media Relations.

The lottery registration for student parking for the 2020-21 school year started July 6, and the application for hardship parking opens July 17. According to Carolina Together, Transportation and Parking has been taking steps to implement community standards and limit in-person interactions. Parking regulations for the new permit year are expected to start Aug. 3. 

Guin, along with fellow Kenan-Flagler graduates Jackson Perry and Ian Edwards, started developing what would become Float in fall 2019 as part of the Startup UNC ventures course.

Eventually, they joined the LAUNCH Chapel Hill accelerator — which offers co-working space and other resources to Orange County businesses — during the 2020 spring semester to hone their idea. This summer, Float is expanding to Penn State University and the University of Michigan, whose college towns are similar to Chapel Hill, Guin said.

Partnering with local organizations

Perry, who is Float's co-founder and chief strategy officer, said organizations that have excess parking capacity could benefit from the platform, particularly for businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our product is helping small businesses, churches and property developers manage, promote and then monetize their space, by promoting this open market where people can compare prices and locations," Perry said. "And then also helping students, faculty and local residents find, pay for and reserve parking.”

Tom Kuell, commercial property manager of Commercial Division of Chanticleer Properties and CEO of Chapel Hill-based, said he has sold four spaces through Float, two in the lot behind CholaNad and two at the Rosemary East lot.

Kuell said via email that his businesses had never rented spaces before, but he believes Float’s two-way marketplace is a low-cost, low-risk way to diversify their revenue stream.

“If you have an extra spot at your house, or a few unused spaces at your business, previously, they would remain empty and that value would go unrealized,” Kuell said. 

He said he knows Float is in its infancy, and that he wants to help provide support and be a resource for the company.

“My business partner and I have a couple businesses in Chapel Hill and we like being part of the fabric of the community,” Kuell, a Kenan-Flagler graduate, said. “I wouldn't be where I am today without the chances that other, more established, people took on me after I graduated.”

Hoping for flexibility

Co-founder and CTO Edwards said the company has service fees on each transaction of around 10 to 14 percent. He said hosts aren’t charged until they receive rent, and, until they cancel the service, renters pay at the start of each month.

“That allows for some flexibility on the renter’s side, and it makes the payout process for the parking lots pretty simple because money just hits the bank account each month in a consistent way for all renters,” Edwards said.

Since Float’s beta launch in January 2020, the company has been accepting renters to a waitlist with more than 200 people. 

Caroline Shealy, a rising sophomore double majoring in biology and communication, recently made it off the waitlist. She said she heard about Float from a friend and signed up because she knew there wouldn’t be enough parking at her apartment building.

Shealy said she'll be living with six other students at Shortbread Lofts in the fall, and four want to bring cars. She said the building offers two spots per apartment. Shealy, who is paying $125 monthly through Float, said she’s happy she was able to secure a spot near her apartment at a rate that will save her $20 per month.

“Overall, I’m just excited that I got it out of the way, and I didn’t have to deal with five girls arguing over a parking spot,” Shealy said. “That was the main thing, that I just didn’t want to get involved in trying to fight my friends over a parking spot.”


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