So far, the sharing economy has mostly been about consumers, but the opportunity for businesses is at least as large. While individuals can share their houses, cars, tools and parking spaces, companies also have valuable assets that might be useful to someone and could generate some extra cash.
Floow2, in the Netherlands, is an example of what an Airbnb for businesses could look like. A marketplace for equipment like forklift trucks and earth-diggers, it allows companies to list items they're not using, and have other businesses rent them out.
"This is a second source of revenue of businesses—the rental of idle capacity," says co-founder Kim Tjoa. "In the past, this could not be activated, but now we have the Internet marketplaces where capacity is transparent."
"Asset-sharing is going to become part of daily business practice. You will have someone responsible for the core business. Then you'll have someone responsible for renting out idle capacity in the neighborhood," he says.
Floow2 is aimed at small- and medium-sized businesses located near each other—say, within a five miles radius. One company might not need a van for a week, so a manager tells the rest of the community. Another might have received an extra order, so rents the van. One side gets rental income, the other takes care of business without heavy investment.
Floow2 hasn't transacted any deals through the site yet. But Tjoa doesn't sound pessimistic. He says it takes time to build up listings and get people interested. "You have to understand that it's really a radical innovation," he says. "The sharing economy for companies has been non-existent. What we're trying to do is create awareness, because nobody knows about the opportunity."
Floow2 does have contracts in place with a purchasing consortium (which organizes group deals) and a sustainable building agency. Both will offer the marketplace to their members. Tjoa is also talking to industrial parks, which could encourage their resident companies to participate.
Elsewhere, there's more evidence that companies are taking to sharing concepts. Equipment manufacturers Caterpillar and Komatsu are both developing marketplaces in which customers can rent out unused items. And, airlines and healthcare providers have started sharing expensive equipment, thus saving on new purchases.
It may take longer for smaller businesses to come on-board. But there's certainty opportunity: The consumer-focused sharing economy has shown as much. "Through sharing, companies can make money, have sustainable business practice and enhance their communities," says Tjoa.