Company helps students share virtually

Photo: Punsri Abeywickrema is the CEO of Rentalic, a nationwide virtual marketplace.
Jeffrey Joh/Staff
Punsri Abeywickrema is the CEO of Rentalic, a nationwide virtual marketplace.

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With thousands of UC Berkeley students vacating the campus this week as another semester draws to a close, a national virtual sharing group implemented on campus last August is hoping to ease the stress of giving away that mini fridge or getting rid of unneeded textbooks.

CalShares - created by Rentalic, a nationwide peer-to-peer virtual marketplace - allows UC Berkeley students to rent or share anything from electronics to textbooks with their fellow students at relatively no cost.

Using a campus email address, students can register on the website and automatically have access to a shared database of belongings that students post up to rent out or share. The difference is that renting costs money - the rental transaction fee is 5 percent of the rental cost but depends on the product - while sharing is free.

"College students put items they own into a sharing pool and can list whatever they want on the specific Cal group created on our website," said Rentalic CEO and Founder Punsri Abeywickrema. "Cal is the first major group we have created, and we are concentrating mostly on colleges to build an ecosystem of sharing."

Launched in March 2010, Rentalic - a San Mateo-based online service company - has gained more than 7,000 members in about 145 cities in 36 states, utilized in small communities and neighborhood schools, according to Abeywickrema.

The company began recruiting UC Berkeley students last year at the campus's college lifestyle fair Caltopia, after creating the CalShare program as a separate branch of the site - a decision that Abeywickrema said was made in order to target a larger number of Bay Area users. He said the company came back to campus this past week to integrate a greater portion of the student body just in time for the end of the spring semester.

"We are changing consumer behavior, starting with the college students," said Lillian Miller, a community outreach and marketing intern with the company. "Instead of people putting stuff out on the street for people to take, it's a neat idea to put stuff back into the community, and it's something to feel good back about."

The company provides a basic scheduling service - allowing the owner of the item to set dates and show availability on a virtual calendar and then create a partnership with the prospective borrower through email to set up a time to complete the sharing or renting transaction in public.

"We allow people to safely engage in sharing communities," said Rentalic Marketing Consultant Kim Koo. "The idea is to really make a smaller microsystem on college campuses and create a sharing pool that keeps things localized, so we know what's safe and available. You are talking about practical things. You are not sharing personal items."

The program allows the renter to place a pre-approved PayPal security deposit on their items. With 584 registered UC Berkeley students, Abeywickrema said he feels that trust is key.

"Since it's a close community, trust is pretty high, but if someone isn't feeling very secure about throwing an item into the sharing pool, they can charge a security deposit," Abeywickrema said.

Koo said the service has seen a fair amount of positive reception on campus, registering 114 students in the past week.

"I used the renting program, and someone rented one of my textbooks," said UC Berkeley junior Deepti Rajendran. "It's really easy to use, but not many people know about it yet."


Contact Anjuli Sastry at [email protected]

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