There is nothing fun about that panicked search for a place to charge a mobile phone about to lose its charge: scanning a restaurant for an accessible wall plug or, yes, dropping to your knees to see if maybe there's one you could use for just a minute behind that clothing rack.
Doug Baldasare's been there. "It was September 2011, I was with some friends in Miami and the four of us all had forgotten to charge our phones overnight and," Baldasare says, "I pointed to a store, it happened to be an Urban Outfitters, and I said 'Why can't I walk in there and charge my phone?"
That was inspiration for his business ChargeIt Spot. He's placed phone-charging kiosks in Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods and other retailers and restaurants, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and three other states. He said the way he sees it, ChargeIt Spot is out in the world solving not one, but two problems. "One is dying phones, we need our phones so much in our daily lives we clutch them like it's part of us, it's a life line and when our phones run low it makes us really anxious. The other key problem is traditional brick and mortar retailers are looking ot find ways to turn their assets — their stores — into a real opportunity."
After his "a-ha" moment, Baldasare wrote a business plan and was accepted into the incubator Wharton Venture Initiation program. Now with MBA in hand, his business is taking off in Philadelphia, he says, with ten locations on the University of Pennsylvania's campus and in other places including hospitals. "We're really looking at all the places where consumers spend a lot of time or could spend a lot of time."
Baldasare said the charging process is free for phone owners — they just plug their device in at one of the kiosks, lock the door and take the key with them. Businesses pay a monthly fee for the service to try to attract customers and keep them there longer until the battery is topped off. Like any ambitious entrepreneur, Baldasare believes there is a market for his product. "There are 220 million smart phone users in the United States so a lot of us have them, a lot of us experience a problem with dying phones and we usually have personal stories about when it was really not a good time to have a dying phone. So I think it really is an idea a lot of people can understand and relate with."
While he speaks like a young businessman, he's not totally traditional. Standing in the corner of his conference room is a large cut-out of Mike "The Situation" from MTV's "Jersey Shore." He says there's a reason behind the cut-out's presence. "Everyday you come to work and you want to have fun and so for us part of what's having fun is doing cool things like decorating our conference room a little bit differently. So that's why we created the conference room that is the situation room that includes a cardboard cut-out of Mikey 'The Situation' from 'Jersey Shore' and a whiteboard where we can actually get some work done."