Excerpted from Boyd Cohen:
“The sharing economy is way beyond unicorns and death stars. There are millions of people around the world actively engaged in sharing activities whereby no money changes hands whatsoever (e.g. repair cafés, Peerby, tool libraries, Freecycle, Little Free Libraries, open source software, clothing swaps, timebanks, and more) or, at a minimum, there are real sharing values at the core of the sharing platform without necessarily the ultimate goal of creating a global monopoly and skirting local regulation and taxation.
What if the sharing community and impact investors designed a new type of sharing economy ecosystem supporting responsible, community-owned sharing economy startups? What if such accelerators helped these startups work with — instead of against — cities? What if these accelerators did not measure success solely by the number of unicorns created, but rather the number of durable sharing startups using environmental, social, and economic impact metrics? What if the ecosystem were composed of a network of accelerators that actually collaborated? What if these accelerators raised funds from impact investors and the sharing community via crowdfunding versus from profit and domination seeking investors?
I do not know if we would get many unicorns doing things this way, but I am convinced the world would be a better place if we could help bring into existence, and to grow, sharing economy startups that actually share the ideals the Shareable community embraces.
* What If We Created a Network of City-Based, Responsible Sharing Economy Startups?
Since obtaining my Ph.D. in entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado about 15 years ago, I have been focused on researching, teaching, and facilitating more sustainable innovation. I am currently a professor of entrepreneurship and sustainability at EADA Business School in Barcelona. Not surprisingly, I have been sharing the views above with my current students (about 60 MBA students in two entrepreneurship courses). Five of the 11 project teams are working on sharing economy business models.
I have started to think about the possibility of creating a sharing economy accelerator based in Barcelona that would not be antagonistic with the City of Barcelona, but rather seek to collaborate from the beginning with them. I have been reflecting about the ambitious goals of Boston’s New Urban Mechanics. This group aims to create a network of civic innovation offices that support local civic innovators by giving them access to city infrastructure and mentors to test new ideas to make the city better. If the idea is executed with good results, New Urban Mechanics then aims to support the growth of these innovators by connecting them with other cities in their network. What if we could get a handful of city-based sharing economy accelerators in cities like Barcelona, San Francisco, Amsterdam, etc. and do the same thing? Each accelerator would support responsible sharing startups and then collaborate to help those startups gain access to opportunities in the other cities in the network.
* What Would It Take to Make This Happen?
If several people emerge with the interest and capability of starting an accelerator in their own city, I’d be all for it. However, I am happy to also be the first guinea pig, since I am in the early stages of trying to develop such an accelerator in Barcelona. But we need much more. Most people argue that what differentiates successful accelerators from unsuccessful ones is the quality, breadth, and reach of the mentors associated with the accelerator.
That is where all of you come in. We would need to assemble a global group of a few hundred mentors with a range of expertise from business models gurus, impact investors, crowdfunding experts, city staff and administrators, deep industry experts in a range of relevant sectors, people with successful startup experience, and more. This mentorship group would be accessible (within reason) to startups in any one of the city-based sharing economy accelerators. In the spirit of true sharing, it would make sense for this global mentorship network to also share in the equity of the accelerators. Perhaps even the accelerators themselves would become part of their own cooperative? It could also be valuable to find a network of co-working facilities, or just several local co-working spaces, interested in hosting accelerators.
Perhaps all of this is wishful thinking. But I do believe that we could achieve power in numbers and that, collectively, we could help to foster a growing number of responsible sharing economy startups that could rival the “death stars” — perhaps not individually but in aggregate — and show the way toward a more equitable, responsible, and collaborative approach to “The Real Sharing Economy.”