Sunday, December 14, 2014

Philadelphia Story: Zagster

The launch of Paris' pioneering Vélib' bicycle sharing system in 2007 made an impression 
on two visiting Drexel University students. Timothy Ericson '07 and Jason Meinzer '09 were 
studying abroad as part of the Drexel in London program and witnessed the rollout of Europe's
biggest bike-sharing system on a serendipitous weekend trip to France. Seeing bikes
as such mainstream, ubiquitous elements in the urban landscape sparked a vision they'd
bring back to Philadelphia. Read the story here or watch How to Start a Bike Sharing Company,
a video interview with Jason Meinzer. Tim Ericson, CEO and co-founder, is interviewed here:

    "The twenty to forty year-olds are really shifting into the sharing economy. I, for one, don't 
      want to own anything. I think that people are moving away from buying expensive things. 
      We're seeing it in a lot of different industries. In transportation, I see bike sharing being 
      a key part of the overall trend of people moving back into the urban core, not owning a car, 
      and utilizing public transit."

In starting the company, initially named CityRyde, Ericson and Meinzer were able to leverage
Drexel's Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship. Two years ago, the company took part in the 
TechStars Boston and MassChallenge startup accelerators, and scored a $1 million funding
round led by LaunchCapital of Cambridge. The funding also included participation from 
Detroit-based Fontinalis Partners, whose founder is Princeton alumnus Bill Ford '79, and
Jean Hammond, prolific angel investor notably of Zipcar. Cambridge became HQ for Zagster.
whose "elevator pitch" goes like this:

       71% of Americans say they'd like to bicycle more yet list access to a bike as the number 
       one barrier to doing so. Zagster provides bikes where people live, work and visit; giving them 
       access using their mobile phone. We've found property managers (e.g. Related Management), 
       universities (Yale, Princeton), businesses (Cisco) and hotels are willing to cover the costs of 
       providing bike fleets as an amenity.

Meanwhile back in Philly, Mayor Michael Nutter was raising awareness by subtle fashion statements.

Through a partnership announced in 2013, Advanced Sports International, a 15-year-old bicycle distributor 
in Northeast Philadelphia, began supplying Zagster with Breezer brand bikes, and provided space in ASI's
warehouse to add its electronic system and other touches to the bikes. 

When Mayor Nutter made a surprise trip to France last July, conveniently timed to watch the concluding
stages of the Tour de France and of La Course, he was accompanied by ASI's chief executive officer, Patrick 
Cunnane, and by state rep Madeleine Dean, who is Cunnane's wife. This bike-oriented trade mission
also involved a visit to Brian Cookson, new president of Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). As a result,
the Parx Casino Philly Classic next June has become a UCI-sanctioned women's World Cup event.

Mayor Nutter's wife Lisa is an avid and ASI-sponsored track cyclist. She is no doubt enthusiastic
about Project 250, a plan to convert 4 acres of the Olmstead-designed FDR Park to an Olympic-class
velodrome. In September, she accepted the inaugural Advocacy Leadership award on behalf of
Mayor Nutter at the huge Interbike Expo in Las Vegas.

The Project 250 velodrome is described, per this 68-page "Alternatives Analysis", as a "MULTI-SPORT,
is hugely interesting, but also an 8MB download. And by the way, Philly might bid on the 2024 Olympics.

   "During the last three years there has been an upwelling of enthusiasm for cycling and cycling in sport 
   as a path to healthy living and as an inexpensive out of school opportunity for boys and girls to develop
   character and find fulfillment throughout the City of Philadelphia, otherwise likely unrealizable. The City's 
   recognition of its inherent potential, combined with the diligent efforts and analysis by the Mayor's office, 
   local business professionals, and cycling enthusiasts, have reached a logical conclusion, plan, and vision
   for the City of Philadelphia. On October 2nd with the Honorable Michael A. Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia, 
   we will unveil the Vision – a multisport/use facility, focused and centered on a 250 meter, Velodrome meeting 
   Olympic Standards, housed in a World Class, Iconic Green Building, which we believe will become known 
   internationally as a symbol of cycling sport and youth development, and as a symbol of green power, with 
   its design adding another graceful icon to Philadelphia's beautiful skyline."

Last month, Mayor Nutter signed an Executive Order to create the Philadelphia Bicycle Advocacy Board,
whose chair is Karen Bliss, Vice President of Marketing for ASI. The other fourteen appointed members 
include: Philip Senechal, Velodrome Planning Team; Patrick Cunnane; Lisa Nutter; Marty Nothstein, Olympic
gold medalist for track cycling; Matt Diefenbach, track racer and Motorola account manager, and
Kristin Gavin, executive director of Gearing Up. 

The latter is a unique bicycling program to help women in transition find new lives by giving them a chance
to get outside, build self-esteem and bond with one another. It originated as a business plan when Kristen
Gavin was a graduate student at Temple University.

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