ChargeItSpot kiosks are available in retail in almost 70 locations. Charles Mostoller/METRO
Doug Baldasare sees his smartphone charging stations as the next air conditioner.
"When air conditioning first came out," said the Wharton grad, "it wasn't an understood thing that a retail store had to have it. But eventually, when all the stores had air conditioning, you couldn't not have air."
Baldasare, 29, is the CEO and founder of ChargeItSpot, just one of many Center City startups the city says is happy to help grow, as long as they stay.
The smartphone charging kiosk is essentially a locker. Find an open slot, connect your iPhone, Android or Blackberry, lock it up and take the key — free of charge.
Baldasare sells the device to retail outlets. The businesses pay for the customer's convenience, and to keep them inside. "So while you're waiting for your phone to charge," Baldasare said, "you spend more time in the store."
The lockers are in 68 stores in six states.
"The fact is consumers are constantly running low on their phone batteries, and we need power to our batteries like we need water," Baldasare said. "It's a pressing need. We're so addicted to our phones and when we run low, it's anxiety-producing."
A new business environment has emerged in the last decade around smartphones and gadgets.
"We are going after, in one way, a new market," Baldasare said. "But at the same time, we're bringing it to a traditional market that's looking for new growth opportunities."
And the city is down with that.
Luke Butler, of the city's commerce department, said ChargeItSpot is one of many fast-growing tech startups in the city.
"We're trying to figure out what role can city government play to support that growth," Butler said. "The cost of doing business in Philadelphia is much lower than in (New York or San Jose), but at the same time we have an increasingly growing and strong network of companies and organizations that rely upon and that support startups."
As these young startups grow, the city wants them to stay. And, to keep them, they'll help them navigate the tax and real estate environments, he added.
But Baldasare hasn't needed them yet.
"But the initial meetings we've had with them they've been very receptive," he said.
Baldasare said he'll say here though.
"Yeah," he said. "That's the plan."
So, what's his story?
"I was in Miami," Baldasare said, "and I was low on battery."
He was with three other friends who were about to split up but they couldn't. They wouldn't be able to find each other. Their phones were all dead.
"Damn," he said. "Why can't I just walk into Urban Outfitters and charge my phone?"
He originally thought the customer would be tethered to the kiosk, and then he settled on the locker. The first one was installed in August 2012.
ChargeItSpot recently launched its mobile app, which will alert the smartphone user once the battery life dips below a certain threshold. The default of which is 30 percent.
When it hits that magic number, the app will send a message and alert the user of the impending doom and provide a list of the nearest kiosks.