Communal Culture Spawns Rental Startups in Construction, Healthcare

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Cohealo, a Boston-area software startup that helps hospitals and clinics share medical equipment such as scopes and surgical tables. (Cohealo’s CEO, Mark Slaughter, helped introduce Romulus to EquipmentShare.)

Medicine and construction have some key things in common, says Romulus co-founder Neil Chheda. They both involve “expensive, low-utilization [equipment] for special users.” And the mechanics of sharing online can be pretty similar across fields. “You search for the type of equipment you need, enter your schedule, find it, read reviews, and book it,” he says.

One difference has to do with revenue generation for customers. For Cohealo, the sharing occurs within a network of hospitals with the same owner, so the payoff for customers is in cost savings, not new revenues. For EquipmentShare, customers can also make money by renting out their property.

Romulus has invested in other, related companies whose products ultimately touch consumers. These include Beacon, a commuter-plane service, and ClassPass, which runs a membership program for unlimited fitness classes across gyms.

For any of these companies, getting to critical mass is a challenge. For business-to-business sharing, in particular, a company has to provide big savings—and become well-known enough to build up equipment inventory and a user community, which feed each other. “The hard part is driving the network effect,” Chheda says. “Can you kick-start it enough at the beginning to get it going?”

EquipmentShare has its work cut out for it. Other construction and equipment-marketplace startups include Getable, TuffWerx, and Crocodo. But Schlacks doesn’t seem too concerned about the competitive landscape, even with his somewhat limited exposure to how the tech industry works.

“What’s interesting is how similar people are in any environment,” he says. “Human nature is so ingrained into all of us. No matter what the culture, there are so many similarities.”

To build anything successful, Schlacks says, “a lot does come down to hard work. You really need a work ethic to get anything done, no matter what scene you’re in. You have a great idea, and then there are valleys after that. You have to push through those and keep testing it, believing it, working at it. So many people don’t push past the low point.”

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