Alumni eco-friendly startup offers cheap textbooks


Emma Li

Aisles of textbook in the lower level of Illini Bookstore on Sunday, Dec 4, 2016.

By Michael Semaca, Staff Writer

Every semester, students are expected to shell out hundreds of dollars for course materials. And, every semester, students like Adrian Geske, freshman in DGS, look for a cheaper solution.

“I usually try to not buy my books new,” Geske said. “I usually try to buy them from somebody who already took the class or rent them off of Amazon, because they’re too expensive at the bookstore.”

Occasionally, Geske said, he will even skip out on buying textbooks entirely if the price is too high, but only in rare cases.

The alumni creators of a new startup believe that they have a solution to help students get cheap textbooks and save the environment. The app, Wigit, is a mobile platform that allows users to rent anything to other local community members.

Co-owner Chris Stiegal, who graduated from the University in May, said he and the other founders came up with the idea when they realized how many of their personal items could be reused.

“We thought about all the items we have around the house that literally just get thrown away,” Stiegal said.

He also emphasized textbooks are a main wasted resource.

“I literally threw (my old textbooks) out,” he said. “And what does that do? They end up in a landfill.”

Each year, two billion pounds of books end up in landfills, Stiegal said. Wigit is designed to be an eco-friendly platform both by promoting reusing textbooks and allowing students to generate income. Instead of throwing away the books, Stiegal said Wigit would allow students to earn money renting out their old textbooks.

To further its commitment to the environment, the company hosted a pre-launch fundraiser with the Conservation Fund, a leading national environmentalist group. Stiegal said they plan to do more fundraisers in the future with them.

“We’re going to end up donating a lot of money to the Conservation Fund,” he said. “It helped gain a lot of traction for us, and we’re helping out the environment.”

Notably, the system can be used on more than just textbooks, Stiegal said. From mini fridges to futons, the app allows renting of a variety of resources.

“We have a ton of extra stuff that you use only a couple times that you can rent out to other students in the local community to make extra money,” he said.

Stiegal explained that this system of renting in the community is more than just financially beneficial. It can also connect people of certain interests together through this sharing economy.

If someone wanted to learn how to play an instrument, they could rent one off Wigit for little money, Stiegal said. They could even rent it from an expert, who may help them learn about the instrument in other ways.

“That’s our main vision; we want to create this platform where people are allowed to share experiences with one another,” he said.

The system launched on Dec. 1 and is still in the early stages. Stiegal said the team has a clear plan for growth.

In the spring semester, they want to prove that their concept works in the Champaign-Urbana area, and plan to expand to another Big Ten campus next fall.

“We want to be able to hit the majority of national campuses in five years,” Stiegal said.

Stiegal expects students to embrace Wigit in the coming months. Geske agreed that the platform had a lot of potential for students like him.

“I would use it,” he said. “It would help students be able to afford all the books they need by connecting them to people and getting them at a used rental price, that would be nice.”

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