Highlights on innovation in the sharing economy – Event report

-by Daniele Miorandi

The sharing economy is proving a major game-changer in a number of different markets, shaking traditional assumptions and disrupting well-established value chains, all based upon the notion of providing ‘access’ to goods and services rather than ownership. The hospitality market will not be the same after AirBnB. Transportation, mobility and automotive – Uber has ignited a series of major transformations which does not seem to stop. Freelancer and Upwork are transforming some of the very basic notions of labour. And many more markets will be disrupted in the next 5 years following similar dynamics.

The sharing or collaborative economy has already created 24 unicorns, which have received more than $26 billion in funding. So… what is going to be next?

On Feb. 15th, 2017, more than 50 innovators, business angels, business developers, scientists, sharing economy activists, industry representatives, technologists and venture capitalists met in Berlin to discuss the next wave of disruptions in the sharing economy.

The event was organised by SmartSociety (Hybrid and Diversity-Aware Collective Adaptive Systems: When People Meet Machines to Build a Smarter Society), an EU-funded project in the area on Future and Emerging Technologies focussed on designing a new generation of IT able to augment individuals and teams thanks to built-in support for hybridity and diversity.

The event was hosted by EIT Digital, a leading European digital innovation and entrepreneurial education organisation driving Europe’s digital transformation. EIT Digital delivers breakthrough digital innovations to the market and breeds entrepreneurial talent for economic growth and improved quality of life in Europe. It does this by mobilising a pan-European ecosystem of over 130 top European corporations, SMEs, start-ups, universities and research institutes.

Claudius Seidel, innovation and node manager at the Berlin EIT Digital Co-Location Center, welcomed the participants presenting a brief overview of the opportunities that EIT Digital may offer for innovators and scale-ups working in this very hot field.

Fausto Giunchiglia, SmartSociety’s Project Coordinator, warmed up the audience with his talk on `Beyond the Sharing Economy: People-Centered Service Provisioning’. His point is that what we see right now with the sharing economy is just scratching the surface of a major change in the service provisioning paradigm. The vision? Computational Humanism, that is, a new way of designing, developing and provisioning services able to respect human agency and `augmenting’ the human capabilities thanks to ICT.


Albert Cañigueral, innovator, sharing economy expert and OuiShare connector, reinforced the message, clarifying that the sharing economy is a new way of organizing economic activity, and that the emerging paradigm is eroding the long-standing capitalistic models of production and consumption of goods and services. To be successful and last long, however, this paradigm requires the development of appropriate governance models, something which is still in its infancy and for which no out-of-the-box solution is (yet) available. His presentation was truly inspiring, catching the audience’s attention and presenting plenty of examples of interesting initiatives in the space.


The following section saw three startups spinned out of the SmartSociety project pitching their solutions. Two of them (WhiteRabbit and SmartNurse) have already received support through the FET innovation launchpad instrument. The third one (Incentive Server) is currently being used by the largest citizen science platform (Zooniverse) and actively looking for funding.

Before a well-deserved coffee break, a panel on high-impact verticals, with Stuart Anderson and Sven Laepple and moderated by Michael Rovatsos, took place. Stuart presented opportunities for sharing economy approaches in the labour domain (online labour markets and their next evolution) and in health and care services, a sector still barely touched by co-production and sharing economy approaches. Sven discussed about opportunities in the fintech sector (peer-to-peer lending, crowdfunding etc.) and took the audience’s attention with a terrific journey through the impacts that blockchain and distributed ledger technologies may have (actually: are already having!).


Doped with caffeine, the audience resumed to hear Sara G. Brodersen, CEO of Deemly, talking about the role and importance of trust in the sharing economy. After a frightening experiment in which attendees were asked to pass their smartphone (properly unlocked) to an unknown neighbour (just to provide the right framework on what ‘trust’ really means when there is personal information involved), Sara explained why trust is the key currency in sharing economy applications, and why it can give rise to a true economy. In a sense, it’s like passing from a data economy to a trust economy: awesome!


Next came Daniele Miorandi, Executive VP R&D at U-Hopper, a big data/IoT startup, introducing SmartCollectives: an open source toolkit for quickly prototyping and building applications for the sharing economy. SmartCollectives is one of the key outputs of the SmartSociety project, and can allow developers to save 80%-95% time when building sharing economy apps: a perfect tool for developing and testing new concepts and MVPs!


The next panel, moderated by Ognjen Scekic, was aimed at discussing lessons learned from pilots and field trials of sharing economy applications and services. Lucia Pannese from i-maginary talked about their experience in running ride-sharing services in northern and central Italy. Paul Lukowicz from DFKI presented their experience in the healthcare domain, and how Google Glasses (yes, still alive!) and other IoT gadgets can support nurses in their training. Ronald Chenu from University of Trento presented the Digital University experiment they are running and how it can improve the quality of education and the overall university operations. Finally, Kobi Gal presented their work with Zooniverse on how to incentivise user participation using cutting-edge machine learning methods.

The last session, led by  Daniele Miorandii and with the fuzzy title `Sharing economy, investors and a world without money’ saw an interesting debate with Dario Mazzella from META group, Albert and Sara on the long-term perspectives of the sharing economy. Topics debated included the role of technology (and whether deep tech can actually play a role) and the impact of regulations in the sharing economy field, a hot item on the EC agenda. It turned out that the perspective of a `world without money’ is actually not that unlikely; furthermore, it offers an inspiring angle for looking at developments in the current sharing economy landscape.

A good deal of networking (with beers, it was Berlin after all!) closed the event. As a matter of fact we had to literally kick out the last participants to close the EIT Digital Co-Location Center. A good indicator of the success of the event, definitely!
Want to see some pictures of the event? Check our twitter feed!

About P. Andreadis

Pre-Doctoral Research Assistant in AI and Social Computation @ University of Edinburgh.

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