Reduce cost, waste by sharing items

Dante Garcia and Michael Barker first met in 1999 at Ordway Elementary in fourth grade, and nearly 22 years later, they co-founded a Bainbridge-based business called Community Gearbox.

Encouraged by the growing interest in the “circular economy,” their mission is to help grow the world’s largest network of shared items — by first focusing on people who know and trust each other. Their app-based platform allows individuals to buy less, save money and strengthen relationships.

“Honestly we were shocked when we read the Yale study showing that household consumption contributes to more than sixty percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, so we wanted to do something about it,” Garcia said.

The two started the company last summer and have been quietly piloting a closed, private-beta of their app with 70 friends and family members since December. Throughout that time their friends and family pooled together more than $60,000 worth of stuff between each other.

Their free-to-use, open public-beta launched on April 6, and they have the goal of reaching 20,000 users across Bainbridge, Seattle and the greater U.S. Since their launch, they have 140 users and 1,400 items on their platform.

Inspired by the organization Buy Nothing — their app is the first to facilitate the sharing, mobilization, and co-ownership of items specifically among people who know each other.

“We’re building the first platform specifically for co-ownership,” Garcia said. “Our hypothesis is that typical friend groups own $20-40k worth of stuff sitting idly around the house, but nobody wants to mentally keep track of borrowed or lent items, or track the wear and tear. That’s where we come in.”

Let’s say your mom needs some kids’ bikes because grandchildren are coming over. She can check the app and find that one of your friends has three bikes that she could borrow. That saves her money, reduces waste and helps people out.

Users create virtual closets of stuff, and link them with friends and family. Then each friend or family member can use an item from someone else for either short- or long-term durations. Users lend and borrow items daily.

While they started the company with the explicit goal of revamping how people choose to consume, users and organizations are testing Community Gearbox for nearly everything, including disaster prep, land projects, churches, outdoor clubs, parents, organizing projects and more.

Many local cities and governments are turning toward the “circular economy” to address the over-consumption problem, and both Garcia and Barker want to help by bringing this transformative potential into people’s day-to-day lives.

So far they have seen a lot of external interest in Community Gearbox. Not only locally on the island, where they’ve partnered with the non-profit organization Bainbridge Prepares, but also across other cities.

Over the last six months, their company became semi-finalists in REI’s initial accelerator program called Embark, as well as semi-finalists for the Flywheel Investment Conference in Wenatchee. Most recently, the Washington Technology Industry Association accepted Community Gearbox into their 7th Founder Cohort, an accelerator program that helps 20-25 venture-scale companies grow over six months.

“The hardest part of the company is getting people to recognize when to use Community Gearbox,” Garcia said. “Whenever you find yourself trying to search Craigslist or Facebook marketplace to find an item, it’s likely one of your friends or family members already has it laying around the house. That’s when you should pull out the app.”

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