With Help from BMW, MyCityWay Rolls Out Popular City-Guide App Around the World

5/3/11Follow @arleneweintraub

You often hear about inspiration prompting a great business idea, but for the three founders of New York-based MyCityWay, the impetus came from quite a different sensation—frustration. Archana Patchirajan, Sonpreet Bhatia, and Puneet Mehta were all working on Wall Street and struggling to find an app for their smartphones that would provide day-to-day information to help them get around New York City, such as subway maps, restaurant reviews, and event listings.

“We know our city always has something to offer,” Bhatia says. “But finding it can be difficult.”

So the three friends turned their quest for information into a business—quickly. In late 2009, they got wind of NYC BigApps, a new city-sponsored competition for developers of applications that employed data the city had made available at NYC.gov. They only had 40 days to build an app and enter it in the contest, so they pulled a series of all-nighters to finish the product, which they called “NYC Way.”

MyCityWay’s founders didn’t win the BigApps grand prize, awarded in February 2010, but they did pick up $10,000 for winning the “investor’s choice” and “popular choice” awards. That won them something far more important: The admiration of carmaker BMW, which was in the process of starting a corporate fund and incubator in New York City designed to foster the development of mobility-based apps.

In February of this year, BMW announced that it would launch the fund, called BMW i Ventures, and that its first investment would be in MyCityWay. BMW led a Series A round of $5 million, which also included funding from FirstMark Capital and IA Ventures. On March 31, the carmaker followed up the announcement with news that it would establish an incubator in New York City. MyCityWay will be the anchor tenant in the new space, which BMW is searching for now.

In the meantime, MyCityWay’s founders are staying put at TechSpace, a sprawling warehouse in the West Village that houses fledgling IT companies, and putting their newfound cash to use. They’re improving their flagship NYC offering, as well as rolling out similar city guides around the world. Within the next few weeks, Bhatia says, NYC Way will take on a whole new look.

As Bhatia whipped out her iPhone to give Xconomy a preview of the redesigned app, it became clear just how far the company has come in a short time. The original app used about 14 datasets from the city to provide such information as traffic updates, restaurant inspection results, and directories of … Next Page »

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