Move over cars and bikes, umbrellas the latest addition to the sharing economy

The Eureka moment for two UBC alumni came a few years ago while leaving the Student Union Building in a pounding rainstorm. Now they've launched umbraCity, an umbrella sharing service they hope will catch on and keep people dry.

Vancouver entrepreneurs behind automated umbrella-sharing kiosks now pray for rain every day

Opportunity meets initiative in the UBC launch of umbraCity umbrella sharing program. (umbraCity)

Vancouver's rain is a miserable fact of life, but where most see soggy annoyance, Amir Entezari envisioned opportunity.

His eureka moment came a few years ago as he was heading out of the UBC Student Union Building into a rainstorm, bemoaning the fact that neither he, nor any of his friends, had an umbrella. 

"We wanted an umbrella," said Entezari, "and we thought there should be easier access, without having to buy one."

Fast forward to this week's launch of umbraCity umbrella sharing service, just in time for the rainy season.

Entezari, and partner Babak Asad, have opened five stands on the UBC Campus, each with 40 big, bright yellow, rentable umbrellas.

Fully-automated kiosks

The kiosks are fully-automated, allowing people to join using a credit card, obtain a membership number, scan in and borrow an umbrella all at once.

The best part is there is no charge if the umbrella is returned to any of the kiosks within 48 hours.

After the free period expires users will be charged two dollars a day to a maximum of $20, at which time the umbrella is considered purchased.

Entezari says umbraCity will make most of its money selling advertising on both the umbrellas and the kiosks. 

He believes it's a no-brainer in Vancouver, not only thanks to the rainforest climate, but because the market research says so.

"To validate the idea we purchased 50 umbrellas and set up a stand near the university bus loop," he said.

"We were overwhelmed"

"We started handing out umbrellas in exchange for student numbers and were overwhelmed. We were prepared to stay there the entire day, but within an hour and a half, all the umbrellas were gone!"

Now that the kiosks are up and running, he says feedback has been nothing but positive.

"People see them and say, 'oh my god where has this been my whole life!.'"

Entezari and Asad plan to expand umbraCity to downtown Vancouver and other cities. As well, they're exploring whether their sharing platform could be used for items like helmets and cell phone chargers in the future.

In the short term, they're just happy that summer is officially over. 

"I never thought I would wish for rain every day." laughs Entezari. "But now I do."

About the Author

Karin Larsen

@CBCLarsen

Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster covering BC teams and athletes for 25 years.

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