Nine Startups Tried to Teach Brooklyn Bowl How to Share Last Night

From bikes to baby clothes to ending the digital divide, a Brooklyn pitch party shows how collaborative consumption is shaping the way we connect.

Sharon Schneider, founder of Good Karma with Common cofounder Alex Bogusky (right) and a big ol' bag of cash.

Brooklyn Bowl, the hippest bowling alley east of the East River, was invaded—not by bushy beards and skinny jeans—but by New York techies vying for the approval and adoration of a brutally scrutinizing panel at last night’s Common Pitch, an uncommon sort of pitch competition for startups with a collaborate consumption bent.

Nine startups, narrowed down from an initial pool of about 70, pitched the panel—including a two time Grammy winner, Foodspotting cofounder and Fast Company editor—for a shot at $3,000 (in singles), expert advice from strategist Daniel Karpantschof and other prizes. Each startup had five minutes to make their pitch. If they went over, cofounder Alex Bogusky would throw a yellow penalty flag (read terry-cloth dish towel) to let them know they had 30 seconds to wrap it up. Panelists would then react and tell the presenters what they liked—or didn’t.

Onto the pitches!

Cofounder Chris Kieran went to bat first for his startup Zoko which he described as “Kickstarter for parties.” The idea behind Zoko is to mitigate the barriers that prevent people from entertaining. Their research showed that folks are more willing to host parties if guests chip in. But, passing a hat around or hitting up friends and guests for money can be a mood killer. Zoko’s workaround is very similar to Kickstarter: hosts set a minimum fundraising goal, potential partygoers pledge, and all the money is in the host’s pocket before they even go shopping. If there’s not enough interest and the goal isn’t met, no money changes hands and the party simply doesn’t happen.

To date Zoko has 910 users and has played a part in planning 410 parties. Beta testers at Yale are hosting over 20 parties a week and Zoko earns seven percent of all cash collected.

Next, Brooklyn Bowl heard from Doug Krugman of Web Thrift Store who opened up with the startling fact that collectively, Americans have $700 billion worth of stuff that they don’t use and don’t need. The big idea behind Web Thrift Store (the judges thought the name was very “web 1.0 by the way) is that any nonprofit can operate thrift store without the cost, a storage facility, staff or physical retail space.

Mr. Krugman said it works like this: find someone who wants your stuff. They pay the charity directly, you get a prepaid mailing label, box it up and the USPS takes your trash (his treasure) off your hands. You get rid of your junk, an awesome charity gets cash, reuse is increased and the world becomes a slightly better place. Just rename it and we’ll have an awesome innovation on a $13 billion dollar biz.

Will Dennis came out next to tell us all about Spinlister, a truly democratic service that matches would-be cyclists with the bike of their dreams. Individuals (just like us!) can list their bike with details and photos and wait for an interested party to rent their bike. Think Airbnb or Zipcar but with two wheels and no pillows. Rentees can search based on location, price, category and size. Once they find a bike they like they can connect with the lister and set up a time and place to make the exchange.

But the fun only starts there: Spinlister has a social component too. The site naturally draws people with similar interests who can post for group rides and map out their favorite routes.

Spinlister is already in 70 cities in over 20 countries and have over 2,000 bikes listed. There are roughly 100 million bikes in the U.S. and one billion in the world. As Mr. Dennis said, “the infrastructure is there, we just need to connect it.”

Spinlister was the was the crowd favorite and won a bag of cash that had been circulated through the crowd, collection plate style.

On deck was Adam Black who wants to put an end to the digital divide by enabling ISP subscribers to share their unused bandwidth with KeyWifi. Mr. Black said that 85 percent of all bandwidth is wasted. When we’re not home, at the office on weekends, the internet is on, but we’re not online. Mr. Black wants to create a network of shared internet access that doesn’t require software, hardware, contracts or any other scary words.

Mr. Black said that anybody and everybody can rent and transmit their unused bandwidth to people within their proximity. Unfortunately, the technical details of how KeyWifi would work were not made clear before Mr. Black’s five minutes were up. There is a pilot project happening in Queens right now. Betabeat and the panel loved the disruptive nature of this idea, we just want to know more about how it… works. Bandwidth for the masses!

Common Pitch NYC winner and Good Karma founder Sharon Schneider came out and showed off how she’d come up with to solution to basically every problem any parent has ever had when it comes to dressing their little ones in clothes that fit. Good Karma is basically a central repository for clothing for kids. It provides busy parents with the right size baby clothes delivers a a bundle of seven outfit right to their door right when they need them. Bundles come in three different price and quality levels and range from brands like Gymboree at $28 a month to Oilily and comparable brands at $79 a month.

Good Karma partners with schools who encourage parents to clean out their closets and donate ill fitting baby clothes. Parents get a tax deduction, the school makes money and Good Karma has an inventory. Win, win, win.

All the clothes are sent out in reusable shipping containers and washed with Selestial soap. What happens when stained clothes come back with permanent stains and can’t be reshipped? They’re turned into bibs and rags.
Both the panel and the crowd loved Ms. Schneiders’s presentation—they picked hers as the number one pitch—but she ran afoul of one judge who said the only fault he could find was in the name. “Cheesy in an unhelpful way,” he said.

With a tough act to follow, the cofounders of Unum came out with big ambitions to make the fashion industry care about their social and environmental impact. In an effort to “find common ground between those who already care and those who don’t think its that improtant, Unum challenges users to come up with designs that other users vote upon. popular designs will then be produced using leftover fabric pieces. Designers get a chunk of the profit but they are required to donate some proceeds to charity.

The panel’s reaction was tepid as one panelist described it as “kind of a cool idea.” If the presenters spent more time on the nuts and bolts of the concept, they might have found a warmer reaction.

Next, former Lehman Brothers employee John Zimmer came up to pitch Zimride even though he really didn’t need to. The San Francisco based startup just got funded for $7.5 million. Mr. Zimmer explained that 80 percent of the seats in cars on America’s highways are unoccupied. That’s why he founded Zimride, which allows users to find a driver with empty seats and book a ride just like you would a bus, train or plane ticket.

Zimride is a social marketplace for drivers and riders who can see each other’s profiles and decide if the ride is one they’re willing to take. If it takes off, Mr. Zimmer believes Zimride will help take cars off the road, reduce traffic wait times and help people make new friends. In fact, Zimride has been the catalyst for more than one relationship already—but please guys, it’s not a dating site.

A pitch from Itemology, founder Engin Erdogan closed the evening as he also explained that we just own too much stuff. Mr Erdogan, whose platform allows users to digitally inventory their belongings explained that self-storage in the U.S. takes up enough space to cover Manhattan three times. The goal of Itemology is for users to really assess what they own in an organized and visual way. The site shows you the total worth and weight of your items and will pull images and information from the web (that you can later replace) so you and others can take stock of your stuff.

Itemolgy runs on a “freemium” business model. Users can trade, buy and sell their things and Itemology takes a small fee. Users are encouraged to rethink ownership and increase reuse.

Common, based in Boulder, Colorado, describes itself as an accelerator for social entrepreneurs. As Mr. Bogusky put it, last night was all about showcasing “how social technologies can help us share more and consume less.” And ideally make a little scratch along the way, of course.

Nine Startups Tried to Teach Brooklyn Bowl How to Share Last Night