Startup Spotlight: BallBox
BallBox is a solar-powered kiosk system that lets people rent sports and leisure equipment and tech accessories daily or by the hour.
How it works: Ever been at a park and wish you had a football or frisbee to toss around? Enter BallBox, an item sharing solution that rents out the items we use but don’t necessarily want to lug around or own.
Founded: 2017 by CEO Alex Hejazi
Funding: $365K from Lair East Labs and private investors
Locations: Chicago, Denver, and Fort Lauderdale
In this edition of the Startup Spotlight, we spoke with BallBox Co-founder and CEO, Alex Hejazi.
In our conversation, we covered:
- The inspiration behind BallBox
- A business model that is practical and socially conscious
- BallBox’s aspirations to kickstart an “item share revolution” through community and retail partnerships
What inspired BallBox?
I grew up in Ann Arbor Michigan. When I finished school at Michigan State in 2015, I moved to Chicago.
If you’re from the East Coast or the Midwest, you know there are about three months out of the year where you can be outside. So, when I moved to Chicago, that’s all I did — I was outside all the time. I would go to the beach or the park almost every weekend. Sometimes, I would go right after work. That’s when I realized that I didn’t have any of the stuff I wanted to use.
I didn’t have a beach blanket or a football to toss around. I didn’t have anything. I saw how easy bikes were to access anywhere in the city and I thought there needed to be something similar for people to access any type of sport or leisure product.
There’s this gap of inaccessibility to sport and leisure products and we wanted to bridge that gap.
Since your founding in 2017, how has BallBox grown?
In 2018, things got a little bit more serious. I went to Abu Dhabi for a hardware accelerator program run by NYU, IBM, and a couple of other organizations [called startAD].
After the program, in May of 2018, we filed as a Delaware C corp. We raised our first round a couple of months after that, began manufacturing, and now we’re raising another round of funding.
More recently, we’ve been working on manufacturing and product design. And a few months ago, in June, we got our first kiosk on the ground in Fort Lauderdale. About a month later, we launched our second kiosk at North Avenue Beach in Chicago through a partnership with Chicago Park District. Next, we started manufacturing our third kiosk that will be at an apartment complex in Denver.
We’ve raised $365K total so far, and we’re going to close that up at $465K. But we’d like to move a little bit faster, build out a team, and continue with our design process and ramp up as quickly as possible.
What is unique about the BallBox business model?
We want to become integrated with the community. We operate on a revenue share with municipalities and give back 20% of our profits to the community parks and recreation department.
We’re also trying to utilize programs in the city to provide underprivileged youths with job opportunities to help with our maintenance and sales strategy. It’s something in the works that we make a talking point with every municipality.
[Another thing] that we’re doing is building a user engagement platform. You can essentially create a profile with a list of your interests and then you can find others with similar interests.
For example, I can private message people to play basketball at the park, there are forums that I can create, there are events that we’ll host, and you can post an event in the community for people to join and attend. Every object in the kiosk represents an interest, and we’re trying to connect people based on those interests.
What’s next for BallBox?
Our goal is to partner with every single municipality in the US. And we want to be at every park.
We’d like to work with our municipal partners like bike share companies do. Instead of just a couple one-off or two-off locations, we’re looking towards city-wide installations.
In the next one to two years, we’re looking to work with some big-box retailers like REI and the National Park Service to create a way for people to show up at a kiosk and have all their camping gear right there. The goal is to increase accessibility to nature, fun, and recreation.
We see ourselves straddling the line of both the public and private sector. In the short term, mostly working with apartments and hotels, but after we get a little bit more traction, we’ll begin opening up conversations with the National Park Services and other organizations like that to build a nationwide, and eventually, global network.
Anything else we should know?
One of the coolest things that we’re doing is building a computer visualization technology. We have three cameras on a kiosk, and each of them is going to be equipped with our computer visualization technology that can detect wear and tear on an item. It will detect if items are being returned or not, and then notify us if we need to maintain or replace them. We’re really creating one of the best rental and return technologies out there.
We’re also providing a way for manufacturers to get unparalleled exposure to consumers that they may have not targeted. After you rent from BallBox, you’ll get a message saying “hey thanks for renting with BallBox, we really hope you enjoy using your inflatable paddleboard. If you’d like to purchase it, you can purchase it here.”
You can purchase [the item] new or used, and there’s a direct link. You can pick it up at the kiosk, or have it delivered to your house. [It’s] a way for product manufacturers to get in front of consumers that they may have not directly targeted. When people have fun with your product on the beach, it gets a lot of exposure that it may not have had otherwise.
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