Student Stories

Bookmark and Share

Zipcar Founder Applauds Sharing Economy


Robin Chase speaks with Interim President Rosanne Somerson during her presentation in the RISD Auditorium.

When Robin Chase founded Zipcar to bring the European car-sharing idea to North America, she had only $75,000 in venture capital to invest. But recognizing the need to reimagine the transportation market, the entrepreneur used her limited funds to purchase four Volkswagen Beetles as inexpensive rentals for drivers in need. It was a smart move. In the decade since, Zipcar has grown exponentially, becoming the world’s largest carsharing service – snapped up recently by Avis Budget Group for $500 million.

“You really can start [your own ventures] with next to nothing,” Chase told the audience at Tuesday night’s 2014 Shared Voices event, the annual presidential speaker series. “The future is about being efficient.”

Shared Voices offers an insightful forum for members of the RISD community and the general public to engage with some of the most expansive thinkers of our times – often activists, scientists and scholars who may not typically interact with artists and designers. With the guidance of faculty hosts Jennifer Law-Freilino, an associate professor of psychology, and Andy Law, an associate professor of Industrial Design, Chase spent the day at RISD on Tuesday, visiting studios and speaking informally with students about various projects. A transportation innovator, she is the founder and former CEO of three startups that have changed our approach to car ownership: in addition to Zipcar, she founded Buzzcar, a carsharing service in France that brings together car owners and drivers; and GoLoco, an online ridesharing community. She is also executive chairman of Veniam Works, a vehicle mesh communications company based in Portugal.

“Chase is a pioneer in creating new economic models for a future that’s actively emerging,” noted RISD’s Interim President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID in welcoming the speaker. “Through her visionary leadership, [she] is asking us all to examine and reimagine our most basic assumptions of ownership and consumption.”

During her hour-long presentation, Chase cited many successful startups catering to various contemporary needs and helping to create a new economy based on collaboration. She explained why ventures that encourage consumer participation and offer local, customized and specialized solutions are most likely to succeed. Among the companies she mentioned is Airbnb – the popular lodging site cofounded by RISD alumni Joe Gebbia 05 ID/GD and Brian Chesky 04 ID, which is incredibly successful due to the community of users it creates, allowing people to readily rent out their own property to trustworthy strangers and easily handle all related transactions online.  

At the end of the presentation, one student asked Chase how to actually launch a company with few financial resources. After pausing for a moment, the entrepreneur responded: “It’s remarkable to see what you can do with the help of friends and those willing to share things for free. It’s possible to create a sustainable future and a totally new economy.”

related links:

•    video of Chase’s talk at RISD
•    Shared Voices: RISD’s Presidential Speaker Series
•    Robin Chase
•    Zipcar

tags: entrepreneurship, innovation, local/global, public engagement, research, social responsibility, students, sustainability

The Providence River and cityscape as seen from the southern edge of campus, behind the Industrial Design and
Architecture buildings.