Parking app SpotHero targets auto industry with new Detroit office

With help from Techstars, startup seeks to get its technology included in cars

Chicago-based parking reservation app SpotHero is opening a new office in the Motor City in a bid to integrate its technology inside vehicles through partnerships with automakers and suppliers.

The new downtown Detroit location will be inside the offices of Techstars Mobility, a spinoff of the larger entrepreneurship network organization that has invested in 33 mobility startups since 2015, and will be one of four new businesses opening offices Wednesday. SpotHero went through the Techstars program in Chicago in 2012.

Integrating mobile parking apps in vehicles is one of the new focuses for technology companies like SpotHero, which now claims to have deals for its technology with nearly 6,000 parking garages and lots across the U.S., including in Detroit. Parkmobile, a competitor that operates in more than 600 cities globally, announced a deal earlier this year to integrate its technology in the infotainment systems of all new BMW models as part of an investment by the automaker. And in September, Volvo announced it had acquired mobile valet service Luxe.

Elan Mosbacher, SpotHero's vice president of strategy and partnerships, said the move is a natural progression for a tech industry increasingly focused on mobile payments, autonomous vehicles and urban mobility. "All of those trends touch on parking," he said. "There are a lot of folks in this ecosystem ... they're all thinking about parking, which is why we're doing this." Mosbacher added that the company has already been in conversation with several automakers and suppliers about partnering, but said he was not at liberty to name any.

Estimates for the value of parking venues in the U.S. vary wildly, from $3 billion to $25 billion, when you include off-street meters.

"Parking, a $30 billion industry in North America, is a key component to the entire transportation mobility ecosystem," said Ted Serbinski, Techstars Mobility's managing director. "What will glue the future of this ecosystem together is a seamless experience from point A to point B."

SpotHero has secured $57.5 million in funding since its launch in 2011. In April, it acquired Baltimore-based Parking Panda, giving it better access to lucrative East Coast markets and more than 800 event partnerships.

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