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Charlotte Internet startup lands $6 million in venture financing

By Caroline McMillan Portillo
cmcmillan@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/16/19/32/1b0jx2.Em.138.jpeg|316
    T. Ortega Gaines - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
    Bob Youakim, left, co-founder and managing partner of Passport Parking, Brad Powers, Bingen Eguzkitza, Khristian Gutierrez, co-founder Charlie Youakiam, Brandon Rivard and Steve Shelby of Charlotte-based Passport Parking.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/16/19/31/Gw8io.Em.138.jpeg|210
    T. Ortega Gaines - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
    Passport co-founders, Bob Youakim, left, and Charlie Youakim of Passport Parking.__T.Ortega Gaines - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/16/19/32/obF74.Em.138.jpeg|474
    -
    Don Rainey

Passport Parking, which operates cloud-based tools for an industry dominated by coin-operated meters, said Monday it has secured $6 million in its first round of venture financing – a significant boost for a Charlotte-based Internet startup.

It also represents a vote of confidence in Charlotte’s growing startup scene, leaders in the city’s entrepreneurial community say.

The financing was led by Grotech Ventures, a Washington D.C.-based venture capital firm, and Nashville-based investment firm Relevance Capital.

“We couldn’t be more excited,” said Youakim, who founded the company in 2010 with his cousin, Charlie Youakim.

Dan Roselli, founder of uptown startup hub Packard Place, said the Series A financing is a major step forward for a city whose entrepreneurial ecosystem has been working to gain national recognition as a place where great ideas can attract capital.

“Having companies raise $6 million as a tech startup and do it in Charlotte is a huge strong statement that hot Internet startups can happen in Charlotte and get funded here,” Roselli said.

Bob Youakim is a former investment banking vice president at Wells Fargo Securities, while Charlie Youakim helped design and develop the electronics systems used by many urban parking decks.

The pair started Passport Parking to help modernize the parking industry.

Their idea: develop a one-stop, cloud-based command center for cities, universities and private operators to oversee everything at once, including mobile parking, ticketing enforcement and event management.

And after just three years, Passport has a staff of 15, a development team in India, an office in South End, a presence in 35 states and high-profile customers including the cities of Asheville and Wilmington, as well as California’s Parks and Recreation Department.

They’ve also expanded internationally, establishing presences in Spain and Australia.

Passport Parking “saw a widespread and universal problem,” said Don Rainey, general partner of Grotech. The Passport Parking deal is Grotech’s first major investment in a Charlotte startup, he said. “Mobile payments are on the rise. We’d all rather pay 75 cents with a few clicks on our phone than carry around change for a meter.”

Rainey was one of the early investors in daily deal site LivingSocial, which launched in 2008, and he’s been involved in startup communities along the East Coast for more than 25 years.

Rainey and his wife moved their six children from Washington, D.C., to Cornelius in April because of the potential he saw in the local startup community. Before making the move, he told the Observer he hoped to find startups that tapped the banking city’s native expertise: “Data protection, financial advising, payment technology, general computer security.”

Passport Parking fits that bill, he said.

This deal pokes a hole in the argument that venture capitalists are looking only at Silicon Valley, Bob Youakim said.

“We’re all chips in on Charlotte,” Youakim said. “We couldn’t have a better place.”

Two months ago, Roselli announced that Packard Place would host a community-wide celebration for any local startup that raised $1 million or more in capital.

The first celebration, he said Monday, will honor Passport Parking. The event will be from 5-6:30 p.m. Jan. 10.

“I think there are going to be more to follow,” Roselli said.

McMillan Portillo: 704-358-6045 On Twitter: @cbmcmillan
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