By Marcus Lavergne
The University of Nevada, Reno’s continuous growth coupled with ongoing construction and renovation has had students and faculty in a bind for some time. The main issues at hand are finding a parking spot as close as possible to classes, and avoiding what can quickly become costly citations at the hands of campus Parking and Transportation Services.
To combat parking woes, administration has come up with several suggestions to help individuals circumvent the whole situation. Parking off campus and taking the new PACKTransit systems, buying a student-only Wolf Pass for the Sierra Spirit public bus, and going through the new car-sharing service, Zipcar, are among a few ways to bypass the parking struggles.
Of course, walking and biking are also solutions, but that’s not always an option, especially when northern Nevada falls victim to snowy conditions or students have long commutes to campus. The bottom line is this: people have their own vehicles, and they’re using them to get to classes. So how does one go about solving the parking problem? One graduate student in Nevada’s MBA program thinks he has the answer.
Ryan Klekas, a songwriter, husband and father of four began his graduate career last fall. One day, he ran into trouble while running late for one of his entrepreneurial classes. He got a university parking ticket, and came to a realization — sometimes, parking on campus just sucks. Ironically, the class he was running late for was his mentor Matt Westfield’s New Venture Creation, which is where Klekas began to innovate the way people park
“I had taken one entrepreneurial class in the semester before in my undergrad,” Klekas said. “I just always remember them talking about the best way to start a business is to look for a problem.”
While sitting in his parking spot that fateful day, Klekas said he looked around at all of the houses surrounding the campus or more specifically, all of the driveways. He said on that day he would’ve loved to be able to park in one of those spots, and then he started questioning why there wasn’t an app for that in today’s day and age.
That was the beginning of his creation. Instally was coming to life. The app allows people to rent out their driveways or unused parking space for money during set periods of time.
“The goal is just to make parking limitless,” Klekas said. “This at least gives you options to where if you want a space and you’re running late you can pre-book it. I just think it’s really terrible that you can be handicapped by parking to the point where it stresses you out or to the point where it makes [people] reluctant to even come and enjoy the university.”
Klekas’ original goal when he started his MBA was to network and gain new experiences. He reached out to multiple people in the area and ran tests to continuously improve his product and figure out people’s needs.
“I had multiple people pay for it on numerous occasions,” Klekas said. “They had nothing but great things to say about it, you know, ‘This really got me out of a bind. This made me feel way better about getting up in the morning knowing I already had a space to go to.’”
This semester, he learned that there were several business-minded individuals who believed in Instally too. The Sontag Entrepreneurship Award Competition was started by UNR’s College of Business, and first gained funding in 2011 through a $1 million gift from alumnus Rick Sontag, who studied physics in the graduate program then went on to earn a MBA from Harvard Business School. Sontag created the Sontag Foundation, which is dedicated to medical research and self-help organizations, after his wife was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1994.
The competition is dedicated to helping build new businesses in Nevada, while “developing the entrepreneurial capacities of University of Nevada, Reno students.” Last week, after the 32 original participants dwindled down to five finalists, Klekas became the competition’s fifth winner and took home the $50,000 grand prize.
His mentor and entrepreneur-in-residence, Westfield, says the hard work starts now for Klekas. Westfield says that Klekas has locked into an “exchange of value,” where he’s receiving helpful feedback in exchange for the work he puts in, and early on in the process, Westfield and others in the field saw that Instally could be something special.
“You’ve got to team up and you’ve got to nurture the ones who have that glimmer in their eyes,” Westfield said. “It’s not an academic exercise. They really have that passion and that glimmer and they’re super coachable. That’s one thing, Ryan was incredible.”
Westfield says it takes drive to succeed in a new business venture, something he believes Klekas has. According to him, it’s easy to tell if an individual has that passion and he tries to express that to his students.
Klekas now has the resources to take his business further. Westfield’s convinced that with the right team, the uniqueness of the business and Klekas’ work ethic can carry Instally to suburban college campuses across the country.
“This allows me to take my passion, coupled with his, and say, ‘Yeah, let’s go do this thing,’” Westfield said. “I told him now the real work begins, now the real sleepless nights begin, because there’s money on the line.”
For Klekas, the next level involves more experimentation and confirmation that Instally’s on the right route. With the tools and resources offered through the College of Business and with the support of mentors like Westfield and others in the entrepreneurship program, it might be worth keeping a close eye on where Instally is headed in the near and distant future.
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mlavergne21.