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The Need: The value of assets locked away in warehouses, lock-ups or storage rooms, underutilised or bound for landfill, is unquantifiable but staggeringly large. Lack of knowledge about these idle assets means that new equipment is unnecessarily procured, while operational equipment is consigned to landfill.
The Solution: Rheaply is an asset exchange platform that drives the visibility on stuff, across all of a client’s sites, enabling the transfer of idle equipment either within or outside an organisation.
What makes this particularly smart: Rheaply software can be applied to companies, university campuses, even districts. The platform can be set up to suit the individual needs of clients, allowing them to specify transfers as free of charge, donations or sales.
Benefits: Rheaply allows organisations to buy smarter and waste less through better surplus asset visibility, utilisation, and management. Rheaply has created a profitable business model and many jobs through proven cost savings for businesses, academic organisations, and other large asset owners.
It all started with a trolley
Back in 2014, sitting in his laboratory at Northwestern University, something had really started bothering neuroscience student Garry Cooper. On this particular day, it was not about the nature of consciousness, how memories are stored or similar matters that usually occupy neuroscientists. It was a much more practical, down to earth question. How to reconcile the lack of funding in university research departments against the great volumes of unused equipment and waste generated by these same departments.
Determined to respond to his observation with practical action, Garry persuaded the managers of his resource-rich neuroscience faculty to allow him to collect labware, machines, shelving, and other stuff that was not being used. He then loaded it onto a trolley and distributed it to less well-off departments in his university that needed the equipment. This trolley service became a regular Friday afternoon ritual for Garry. In his last few years of his PhD, he redistributed 55 items, ranging from antibodies and glassware to research equipment, saving labs across the campus more than USD25,000 and keeping those resources out of landfills.
Years after he left Northwestern University, now in a well-paid position designing supply chain solutions with Ernst and Young, Garry still received emails asking about his trolley - and these begged the question that redirected his focus. What could an asset redistribution and recovery platform look like, that would allow users to better visualise, quantify, and utilise surplus resources?
To make all the world’s assets visible and transferable
By late 2016, Garry had quit his secure job and fully immersed himself into Rheaply, the company he had set up the previous year. At this stage, Rheaply had three full time staff members, with a single client: Northwestern University.
A science faculty at a university like Northwestern might own millions of dollars of research equipment housed in laboratories and storage rooms spread out over many buildings. This faculty could be just one of many within a university, so that overall, tens of millions of dollars of equipment is dotted around a campus site hundred of acres in size. A proportion of the equipment is used regularly, but a lot sits around idle or never being used at all. This is clearly a value-losing situation with impacts on organisational costs, waste to landfill, and the environment.
If a piece of equipment is not being used, a Rheaply user can quickly and easily find the asset on the platform from a device of their choice, and post items to another laboratory, faculty, building or different part of the campus.
The platform is populated in three distinct ways:
- Through individual users or user groups posting directly to the site (admins and teams)
- Via batch processing and inventory data uploads (e.g. through integration with ERP or AMS system)
- For large facility clear-outs, via the company’s concierge team
Enabling seamless transfer of assets is the reason why Rheaply has earned its circular economy stripes. However, what often tips the decision for a wide range of organisations including Google, Abbvie, MiT, and the US Air force to contract Rheaply, is because through the platform, clients receive fingertip accessibility to volume, model number, condition, and other details about hundreds of millions dollar worth of stuff.
Move, donate or sell?
When Rheaply first engages with a new organisation, the client is allowed to set the rules of the platform. For example - this could mean that a piece of equipment should first be offered to the faculty. If there are no takes on day 31, the asset is automatically listed campus-side, and then after 60 days, it can be listed outside of the organisation. The rules aren’t just time-related, they can also be set for different asset types e.g. manufacturing equipment stays in the organisation, furniture can be listed anywhere.
The terms of the transfer can also be customised, so that equipment can either be freely moved, donated or sold. As the platform is a software as a service (SaaS) offering, Rheaply makes revenue through a subscription fee, rather than a percentage of transaction, meaning that even if the item is given away, Rheaply remains financially sound.
If the Rheaply platform cannot find a new home for a piece of equipment or material, then it will go to an asset recovery and recycling partner such as C2 Management, an R2 certification company that specialises in electronics. C2 directs the equipment either to tertiary markets or recycles components and materials, to fulfill the < 1% to landfill standard.
Benefits across the board
Since its inception, Rheaply’s technology has enabled organisations (including higher education institutions, federal and state governments, and Fortune 100 companies) to divert over 14.5 metric tons of material waste and save USD1.5 million by recapturing valuable resources internally. Key highlights include:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology saved over USD 44,000 in its first six months on the platform in a pilot of ~800 users
- A City of Chicago partnership led to 2,100 new businesses and non-profits signing into Rheaply within the first week of the platform going live to procure PPE for the city’s phased reopening plan.
- The University of Chicago saved ~USD 300,000 in a single endocrinology lab clear-out
A diverse and inclusive circular economy
The success of companies like Rheaply clearly demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of the transition to a circular economy, but what about the social benefits? How do we create a more distributed, diverse, and inclusive economy?
One way that Garry sees Rheaply contributing to this is by supporting poor neighbourhoods in his home city of Chicago. The Covid crisis has brought many societal disparities into the spotlight. Even worse, it has exacerbated some, as morbidity rates are so much higher among blacks and hispanics, meaning that business owners from these communities have had to shield themselves and withdraw from commercial activity. Rheaply’s platform helps connect these vulnerable groups back to the wider community, allowing them to participate safely in their local marketplaces.
In a way Garry’s efforts to make Rheaply benefit the poorer communities of Chicago circles back to his origin story in Northwestern, when his personal efforts facilitated equipment transfers between resource-rich faculties to those corners of the campus that were less well-off. Taking a page from Rheaply’s book, companies can foster a culture of inclusion, equality, and belonging while applying the principles of a circular economy.
For more info:
- Established June 2015
- HQ in Chicago, Illinois
- ~25 full time staff
- 23 clients including major universities and fortune 500 companies
Case study published Sept 2020