Paths: Aashish Dalal '99
From Med-School Hopeful to Internet Entrepreneur
Until he got to college, Aashish Dalal '99 wanted to be a doctor like his mother. Today, the 35-year-old Dalal isn't setting broken bones or diagnosing aches and pains. But he is working to alleviate another sort of suffering -- one familiar to anyone who's searched fruitlessly for a place to park in a congested area.
As the co-founder of Chicago-based ParkWhiz, Dalal matches drivers with open parking spots everywhere from downtown garages to ballpark neighborhoods. His journey from med-school hopeful to Internet entrepreneur has had many twists and turns. "As I went through college and experienced new parts of the world, my burning desire to be a doctor just wasn't the same," the biology and psychology major admits. "To be honest, I didn't know where I was headed."
Dalal gained clarity through a number of post-graduation stopovers: the purchasing department at industrial supply giant McMaster-Carr; a graduate program in information systems; the sales division of technology solutions provider Soft Choice; and a two-year stint in IBM's procurement and supply chain management departments.
"I saw so many different sides of business, but quickly learned I wanted to be in a small environment where I could be passionate about solving the broken things in life," Dalal says.
One of those "broken things" was parking.
Dalal recalled driving with classmates to a football game at Ryan Field during his sophomore year. The parking lot was full, so Dalal's group cruised the residential streets and found a girl holding a sign that read "Parking $10."
Parking, Dalal thought, was a broken experience this girl had solved in her own, modest way. He wondered if technology couldn't help him do the same thing on a more robust scale.
In 2006, Dalal formally tackled the parking dilemma and established ParkWhiz with colleague Jon Thornton.
Though starting small -- ParkWhiz didn’t capture its first sale until 2007 -- the upstart enterprise scored a monumental break in 2010 when the city of Arlington, Texas, invited ParkWhiz to be a member of its Super Bowl committee, a relationship that spurred subsequent partnerships with StubHub and TicketsNow.
Today, ParkWhiz covers 80 cities and more than 2,000 parking locations across the country. A recent $2 million investment from a Chicago-based venture capital fund, meanwhile, has enabled the company to add more than 20 staffers and explore new markets.
"What Orbitz is to travel and OpenTable is for restaurants, we want to be for parking," Dalal says. Once seemingly destined for medical school, Dalal holds no regrets about the road he has traveled.
"I took some risks, but followed my heart and pursued happiness. This is the journey of life," he says.