MuniRent provides a platform for local authorities in the United States to borrow or rent out heavy equipment among themselves. The startup wants to encourage the sharing economy at government level and become a hub for ‘collaborative government’.

MuniRent brings the sharing economy to local government level

The sharing economy no longer has to prove that it can make a contribution to modern daily life, as is demonstrated by the popularity of companies such as Uber and Airbnb. These firms, now valued at over a billion dollars, are members of the Unicorns club.  Now however, a debate is going on about how to regulate the ‘disruptive’ economy, and ‘sharing economy” players are facing the regulators, who do not yet appear to ‘get’ the benefits of technological disruption, across a ‘technological divide’. Misunderstandings between the two sides abound. Against this background, Ann Arbor, Michigan-based startup MuniRent is working to bring about changes in government mindset, encouraging muncicipalities to rent out their equipment to other local authorities via the Munirent online platform. “Our aim is to encourage collaborative government and help drive it forward,” MuniRent founder Alan Mond told L’Atelier ahead of the Smart City Startups event held in Miami on 24-25 April.

An exchange platform for local authorities

The idea of creating the MuniRent website came to Alan Mond when he realised that heavy equipment owned by public agencies is often under-used or even entirely unused. His online platform enables local authorities to see what equipment is available in their area and to reserve it for a specific period of time. This means they will be able to rent equipment at lower rates than that they would have to pay a private company. In addition, MuniRent takes care of such aspects as invoicing and payment processing, which can be time-consuming tasks for municipal staff. This initiative also helps to narrow the resource gap between the smallest municipalities and larger ones with bigger budgets. “Public agencies are by nature non-competitive. They just happen to be located in different jurisdictions. That’s basically why municipal authorities were set up. This in turn creates an ideal situation for developing a platform for exchanging equipment locally between cities looking to increase their cost-efficiency,” Mond underlined.

GovTech and CivicTech – trends to watch

MuniRent would appear to have a promising future. Last year the startup was accepted on to Code for America’s new accelerator programme. Code for America (CfA) is an initiative designed to encourage startups to develop solutions for government based on the new information and communication technologies. The programme provides the startups with funding worth $25,000, mentoring, and access to CfA’s government network so that the fledgling companies develop the know-how to navigate the government's technology ecosystem. MuniRent plans to build out its platform and start working in other regions of the United States. For the moment the company is working with six municipalities in the state of Michigan. It takes 10 - 20% commission on each equipment booking. Alan Mond believes that the collaborative government movement, now only in its infancy, is set to grow. Says Mond: “In 2013, the US Government spent $150 billion on technology investment – basically IT infrastructure. So I think that GovTech, which focuses on a city’s internal functioning, and CivicTech, i.e. apps designed to get citizens involved, are two trends to keep an eye on.”

By Eliane HONG