MiPayWay Founders 2015

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Last May, Brian Bell experienced a moment all too common in today's digital world.

Soon after boarding a shuttle bus to a Chicago hotel, he reached in his pocket and realized he had no cash to leave a tip. He left the bus embarrassed, but determined there had to be a better way.

Within days, he had the idea for MiPayWay, a small button with sensors to recognize a person's mobile device nearby and allow small payments to be transacted virtually using PayPal. It could be worn by a hotel's bellman or maid, a restaurant's wait staff or a hair stylist. It could be affixed to a taxi or shuttle bus. It could be placed at the donation table at a nonprofit event or at church on Sundays.

Fast forward nine months and a pilot of the device and app is planned for March, Bell (pictured above, left) and his partner Dick Butler (pictured right) told me at last night's NC Regional Internet of Things event, where they debuted the technology for the first time publicly. They hope to eventually raise venture capital and begin marketing MiPayWay to the hospitality and services industries nationally.

Their ambitions are no surprise considering the fast pace with which they've developed the product. Within days of his idea, Bell contacted Butler, a client of his Durham-based Salesforce consulting business and manufacturer's rep for hardware companies (He owns Raleigh-based Electronic Manufacturers Agents). Bell wanted direction for starting a hardware business, but Butler was immediately intrigued by the idea and signed on as a partner in the company instead.

"We really complemented each other," Bell says. "I come from the software application world and he's from the hardware side."

They rented office space at the Wireless Research Center in Wake Forest to get access to its business consulting services. Team members there helped them file a patent to protect the technology before development began. Within six weeks, they had a prototype of a device powered with Bluetooth low energy. 

Today's finished product is ready for market (the app is still under development). The plastic button can sense a mobile device with the MiPayWay app within 200 feet, and when the app is open, allows a tip to be processed within two clicks. It also includes sensors that detect motion and temperature variation, features not part of the core app but that could be used in future applications. For example, a hotel could use the device to track the temperature in a hotel room or a shuttle bus company to know when its vehicles are moving.

Added features or new applications are three to five years out, the men say. For now, they are focused on making payment easy, less awkward and time consuming.

The men believe MiPayWay is preferable to Apple Pay because it only requires a PayPal account versus an Apple device and isn't contingent on two people to be in close proximity for a payment to happen. It doesn't require a credit card swipe like Square. And it's more advanced than many existing tipping apps that still require the transfer of information between the customer and service-person. That can be awkward when only $1-2 are involved, Bell says. Tipping is a subtle action, and MiPayWay keeps it that way.

The men believe their innovation will be protected—two searches of patent records revealed no other company using the same method of identifying a person using a device. They hope IP—and early customers and revenue—helps MiPayWay bring on investors and quick adoption in the months to come.