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 and his partner Dick Butler told me at last week’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.

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