The Sharing Economy: radical capitalism or high-tech pocket money?

Saturday 17 October, 14.00 until 15.30, Frobisher 4-6, Barbican The New Industrial Revolution?

Depending on where you’re sitting, Uber is either a brilliant innovation, making hiring a taxi cheap and easy, or the embodiment of evil, cannibalising existing taxi revenues. Uber is one of many new kinds of businesses that are part of what is known as the sharing economy. AirBnB (room rentals), ZipCar (car sharing), JustPark (drive-way rentals), Zopa (peer-to-peer money lending) and NeighborGoods (lending tools), are some of many examples where private individuals and small businesses have sought to capitalise on their assets in new ways.

Uber is said to be worth over $40 billion, and PwC suggests the global sharing economy is worth £9 billion and is set to rise to a massive £230 billion by 2025. The prediction is that 70 per cent of the UK population would share their idle assets if it were easy to do so. For example, right now in the UK, 20,000 people are renting out their driveways through JustPark, each making an average of £465 per year. But as well as making a few extra quid, enthusiasts argue the sharing economy can also help rebuild trust between hitherto atomised individuals. John Zimmer, co-founder of the car-sharing business Lyft, claims, ‘people are craving real human interaction—it’s like an instinct. We now have the opportunity to use technology to help us get there’.

Nevertheless, the sharing economy has taken off in a sustained period of depressed economic growth, which has driven many to seek extra income. So will the sharing economy be able to command the significant investment needed to transform these new ideas into whole new industries or sectors? Or, rather than being genuinely innovative, are these firms and initiatives merely piggybacking on existing business models, with the advantage of having lower or no overheads? Are companies like Uber right to circumvent or ignore existing regulations or do they need to be reined in? Is enthusiasm about the sharing economy making us blind to the much harder task of genuine economic innovation?


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Lesley Curwen
business, economics and personal finance journalist, BBC; writer and speaker

Rob Killick
CEO, Clerkswell; author, The UK After The Recession

Benita Matofska
chief sharer, Compare and Share; global sharing economy expert

Eva Pascoe
chair, digital network Cybersalon; co-founder, Cyberia, world’s first internet café; co-author, An Alternative Future High Street for the UK minister for high streets

Martyn Perks
digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Produced by
Martyn Perks digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation
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