Different Visions of Mobility Bring New Game for Switzerland’s Most Established Players

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At the World Collaborative Mobility Congress (Wocomoco) in Bern, SBB, the Swiss railroad operator, organized a pitching session for four promising startups. The goal was to identify products and services that could provide added value to SBB and its customers. Successful ideas are then integrated into SBB’s business line. This showcases just one way established players in mobility deal with new ideas and companies in their field.

Many new companies present at Wocomoco follow the trend toward a sharing economy. As Lauren Anderson from the Collaborative Lab, a Sydney-based advisory services company*, explained, shared mobility plays an important part in shaping our thinking about the sharing economy.

While the idea of car sharing is not new, Anderson said it is new technologies like smartphones that make these services much more user-friendly. And car sharing is booming, with real consequences for car manufacturers: Cars are already being sold by individuals, or they postpone their decision to buy a car in favor of participating in car sharing. Michael Glotz-Richter from the Senate of Bremen, Germany, and Peter Frey from Mobility, an established car-sharing company in Switzerland, noted that every car used in car sharing replaces between six and 11 cars owned by individuals.

Car manufacturers and other players in mobility are well aware of the challenges ahead. If they want to keep on selling cars, they have to come up with new business models. Not surprisingly, car manufacturers are looking for collaborations with car-sharing companies. One example is the Daimler Group, also present at Wocomoco, which has a stake in the company Car2go, which offers Daimler’s distinctive Smart cars.

On the other hand, there are young entrepreneurs with their own visions. An example is Drummond Gilbert from goCarShare. He hopes to have a positive social impact with his company and is now advising other startups on the art of crowdfunding, which he successfully used for his company. Take Michael Usher from CLYC, a company developing a smart bike lock that could facilitate bike sharing tremendously. He turned his passion for riding bikes, discovered when he moved to Berlin, into a business idea.

Drummond Gilbert, founder of goCarShare explains the challenges facing startups.

Nicolas Zahn / Student Reporter

Drummond Gilbert, founder of goCarShare explains the challenges facing startups.

But as Andreas Rubinski from Mobility International reminded the young entrepreneurs, good intentions and personal engagement aside, these startups also need to be profitable. This is where the two groups, established companies and innovative startups meet. There is clear potential for mutually beneficial collaboration, trading ideas against resources.

However, the industry is not without negative experiences. Examples of startups being bought up by large companies, to make sure their idea never reaches the mass market, were traded among the young entrepreneurs during coffee breaks at Wocomoco.

Is there a danger that established companies will resist change to their business model by simply buying up the disruptive startups? No, said Jörg Beckmann, director of the Mobility Academy. He said established companies, including car manufacturers, are seeing the changing landscape and cannot afford to ignore or shut down this change. Instead, clever collaboration can help them conquer new markets and help the startups get out of their niche.

*Correction: 22 May 2014
In a previous version of the story, “Collaborative Lab” was incorrectly labeled as “Collaborative Consumption Lab” which is a different, U.S.-based, think tank.

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