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Outside Parking Perspectives: Interview with Wesley Newburg, Managing Director @ Helene Ventures

Interviewer’s Note

As parking professionals, we know how we feel about parking.

There’s a plethora of terrific thought leadership in our space from the parking professional’s point of view, all of which brings valuable insights to the table.

Today, we’d like to offer an injection of perspective from someone outside of the industry: Wesley Newburg, Managing Director at Helene Ventures.

A self-professed “software guy”, Wesley and Helene Ventures support businesses using software to drive down the cost of deploying and maintaining sustainable infrastructure while increasing equity and reliability.

We sat down with Wesley to hear his outside-the-industry opinions on how parking fits into the bigger picture of clean energy and mobility.

Hope you enjoy this interview and find some discussion points to surface with people in adjacent and alternative industries – as well as all of us “parking people”, too!

Sarah Becherer, VP of Marketing @ Ocra: 

Hi, Wes. It’s nice to spend some time together.

Wesley Newburg, Managing Director @ Helene Ventures:

Yeah, definitely. We’ve met in person briefly but great to catch up.

First things first, how much would you say that you know about parking, Wes?

Everything I learned about parking, I learned from Ethan Glass (interviewer’s note: Ethan is the CEO & Co-Founder of Ocra) or studied based on Ethan’s recommendations.

I’m a big fan of Alex Mitchell and read his newsletter, Su$tainable Mobility, religiously, as well.

So, you wouldn’t say that you’re a “parking person”?

No, I’m a software person. I dove into the parking industry because it’s useful to Ethan in his journey of building Ocra. 

It also helps inform my investment strategies in my areas of focus – clean energy, sustainable infrastructure, and creating equity, efficiency, and reliability in the processes and systems that move people and things at scale. 

What’s interested you most about parking so far?

I think parking is interesting because it’s the most flexible type of real estate. 

What do you mean by “flexible”?

In the sense of the flexibility that individuals or businesses in the parking sector have in the larger urban planning or land use conversation.

Parking plays a big role in adapting for climate change and preparing cities for new models that are actively being piloted and will emerge in the near future.

What do some of those new models look like, do you think?

I think in many ways, the permanent and fundamental shift towards e-commerce will become increasingly influential in how we use parking real estate at the curb.

Parking people are talking about last-mile delivery, too, and the curb as an activity hub for delivery fleet activity.

So, the thing is, everyone acknowledges the reality of e-commerce in their personal habits, that we like to order things off of Amazon or wherever on demand when we need them.

By and large as a society and as an economy, we’ve been slow in recognizing how it is a huge component that requires infrastructure. That requirement isn’t going away.

How does parking help cities meet that requirement?

I think there is some parking software out there that could and should play a very important role in realizing a living street’s vision for density for different models and mode shifts. 

We need to optimize the use of the real estate we have left. Software and data does that.

This seems to fit your thesis as a venture capitalist.

Yes, it does. Software companies that make us smarter about where and how we deploy infrastructure in the context of electrification and clean energy are smart investments.

Driving to a park spot where we can charge our EV, for example, can happen in a more integrated and automated way when we have smarter connected vehicles and software.

Software is what will accomplish that?

As a tech person who is looking at how software optimizes the deployment of infrastructure, I affirm that. 

Eventually, as we move from connected to autonomous vehicles, all of that sophisticated infrastructure will run on software.

Connected vehicles are underinvested and underestimated for how they create logistics for last-mile delivery. 

Parking as logistics hubs for last-mile delivery is an outstanding opportunity. Goods movement is more valuable than people movement most of the time.

What would you say to a climate-oriented parking operator who is thinking about how to grow revenues as the utilization of the curb and off-street parking assets changes?

I would say that in parking or commercial real estate, the person who is going to end up with the winning mix, the winning strategy, and the winning portfolio is doing two things:

First, they’re actively, or maybe even aggressively, studying alternative uses of parking and office space. 

Secondly, they have their eyes on the underlying software and digital infrastructure that will drive or at least support that transformation.

Any thoughts for how to pursue that knowledge and stay abreast of transformation?

Think about things that happen on the internet and map that to jobs in the real world. Think deeply about that, as a start. 

A lot of people in the real world today are doing jobs that involve piloting new ways of moving people and goods. Go in and mix with those people, break bread with them. 

Be critical and useful to the people transforming freight and logistics and in return you’ll find things to inform your strategy of investing and developing real estate. 

What distinct value do parking operators bring to the table for these people?

Lots of things, but largely being their eyes and ears. 

Parking operators know the neighborhoods and what it takes there to get things done to move people, vehicles, and goods. They understand behavior in local markets, which matters.

They’re also good at local staffing. They have a workforce that shows up reliably and cracking that is a huge part of the puzzle. It’s an incredible asset; I can’t understate it.

Right. The workforce in this labor environment is really important. 

Yes, those people who I mentioned earlier, those with the job of scaling up these new models of transportation and logistics, they actually need operators as much as operators need them because operators are the ones with the boots on the ground. 

What else?

Parking operators and the assets that they own or manage are a hub for mobility pilots. Let’s talk about airports real quick. The airport is the place where we need to try V2G…

“V2G”?

Stands for “vehicle to grid”. It enables energy to be pushed back to the power grid from the battery of an electric vehicle. 

Airports have a unique way of exploring it because people who drive to airports generally park for longer periods of time, right? 

V2G sounds like it could be an interesting ESG play for airports. 

(Interviewer’s note: ESG is a framework used to assess an organization’s business practices and performance on various sustainability and ethical issues.)

V2G could be a really effective way to offset the intensive carbon emission activity of flying. 

Parking operators could ask questions like, “could the batteries in the cars that I’m parking participate in that offset?”. Parked vehicles as a resource on the grid.

You mentioned the parking operator’s connection with the community is an asset.

It is. 

What successful parking operators seem to be doing today is looking at their buildings, surveying their neighborhood, and connecting with their customers in order to provide them with the best experience based on their needs.

Taking it to the next level, you know, to prepare for the onset of these new transportation and logistics models, I’d say identify the places that your customers patronize. 

Let your facility be a hub for how innovation reaches every individual and business there.

You believe that the parking asset is a community resource, in many ways.

Right. We share water; we share power; we share transit. 

Parking as a shared resource puts parking in a better spot of bringing us all together. 

And if you know who’s coming in and out of your facilities, you know how these businesses depend on you for revenue. 

The best position to be in is to be partnering with those businesses and making them aware of your services and opportunities.

Electric vehicles and EV charging have been a major topic of discussion in the parking industry for a while now. Could you weigh in from an outside perspective?

In the same way that I, a non-parking person, talk to parking people about parking, I’d encourage parking professionals to seek out EV people to understand how important EV is in the big scheme of things. 

It’s a little “chicken and egg” because we’re not seeing EVs where there isn’t infrastructure for it. 

But regardless, it’s something operators need to be ahead of because it’s better to be early, otherwise the opportunity will be constrained.

How do you think the parking industry is doing right now in terms of being ahead of imminent EV adoption and implementation?

Some companies are taking leadership roles and are helping the industry understand the EV charging opportunity. FLASH is one that comes to mind.

Listen – it’s clear from the OEMs, through the whole upper layer, that we’re doing it. 

EV is happening one way or another. There’s going to be some kind of “cash for clunkers” incentive for non-EVs to help mop it all up. 

How would you respond to someone saying that the parking industry is “outdated” or “behind the times” in terms of technological advancement?

I’d say that it’s not a matter of “dinosaurs”, or of “new tech” vs. “the old guard”. 

We shouldn’t use words like “behind” or “outdated” when referring to the industry. 

I agree with you, for many reasons, but I’d like to hear yours.

I feel like people use that vocabulary because of parking’s fundamental nature as a category of real estate and how it’s regulated and fits into planning and urban development. 

In parking, due to its fundamentals, people perceive its relationship to technology and consumers as alienated. It’s removed and abstracted.

Right, because when we talk about “innovation”, we talk about technology.

We talk a lot about tech, yes, but we also talk a lot about the feedback loop between the business and the consumer. 

Totally. Because that’s where many of the opportunities to create understanding and monetization exist.

Right now people talk about parking asset utilization in this vague and large-scale way based on the presumed need for parking space based on zoning and the urban plan.

Companies need to close the gap between that abstraction and the reality of parking as an industry where these consumer-business inflection points exist and can be monetized.  

Who is closing that gap, then? Is it the parking industry? Is it an adjacent industry, like real estate, or another one altogether?

The really, really good news is that it doesn’t require disruption from someone outside your industry, or a bunch of young people coming in with shiny tech. 

All it takes is refocusing on the user, and anyone can do that at any point. 

The best parking execs, the ones we all respect, are really people oriented and not car-oriented or square foot-oriented, but rather radically consumer-oriented.

What else needs to happen?

There are other things that need to happen but that’s the kernel. 

Parking has the power to turn our collective attention away from the land-oriented perspective to the people-oriented perspective. 

You can do that tomorrow. You need to act on that.

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