Regardless of the economy, the United States is still a land of plenty. However, many Americans can no longer afford to continue to buy items that they use to buy. Smart entrepreneurs are focusing on how to redistribute all of the “things” we already have so that using them is less expensive, builds community, and becomes more environmentally friendly. This is called collaborative consumption, and companies such as ZipCar, Air B&B, Craigslist, and Netflix have proven it works. But what is next?

Earlier this week, nine collaborative consumption entrepreneurs pitched their ideas in a rapid-fire format and competed for $30,000 in prizes at the Common Pitch event in Brooklyn.

The winner was Good Karma, a service that helps new parents provide right-sized clothing to their fast-growing infants (newborns to 24 months) through a reusable clothing subscription service. Parents can choose between $27.99 per month for basic clothing, $44.99 for more exclusive brand-name clothing, or $74.99 for designer clothing. Outfits are exchanged by mail in a reusable shipping bag, and cleaned with eco-friendly products and methods. The company also “upcycles” worn-out clothing into other products such as bibs, doll clothing, and quilts. Good Karma estimates that parents who use the service instead of buying new clothing save around $1,000 per year.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Sir Richard’s a brand of socially conscious condoms. Sir Richard’s is based on the Toms Shoes model of “buy one, donate one.” If you buy a box of Sir Richard’s, you will be providing someone less fortunate a box for free. The company’s latest awareness campaign promotes the purchase of products to help provide 500,000 free condoms for Haiti, which saw a spike of unwanted pregnancies after the disastrous earthquake. They are growing rapidly based on über creative branding and an ethos that in the realm of influencing healthier sexual behavior, it pays to be aspirational instead of preachy.

As a 2.0 for ZipCar, Zimride offers Americans the ability to sell available seats in their cars when they take longer trips. “Save money and meet people heading your way,” is the company’s tagline. The ride share idea is simple and has been around for decades.  Zimride takes the idea online, and allows people to post their empty car seats and look for a ride if they need one. The service is linked to each driver’s Facebook page as a way to verify that whether the driver or passenger is someone with whom you want to ride.. Zimride has the benefit of also reducing carbon emissions and helping people meet each other (one wedding has already been recorded as a result of a Zimride match.)

The majority of the collaborative consumption entrepreneurs at the event presented ideas that improve quality of life, reduce costs, are kinder to the environment, and build community. In an era when we are increasingly wary of depending upon a revived economy to restore our quality of life, perhaps these entrepreneurs are on to something.

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