Scholar alumnus changing cities with two-wheeled transportation

Jeff Rice
November 14, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a recent Penn State graduate in the early 2000s, Ryan Rzepecki lived in Greenwich Village, New York. His job was a few miles and a few dozen city blocks away, in Hell’s Kitchen. A colleague went away for the summer and offered to let Rzepecki borrow his bicycle, a child-sized Huffy mountain bike.

Rzepecki’s daily commute became easier. He started telling all of his friends to get a bike. He started a blog about it. Soon after, an idea was born.

“I was passionate about changing the perception that bikes were only for recreation,” he said.

Smeal graduate and Schreyer Scholar alumnus Ryan Rzepecki

Smeal graduate and Schreyer Scholar alumnus Ryan Rzepecki.

IMAGE: Steve Tressler

Today, Rzepecki is the CEO and founder of JUMP Bikes, a national and soon-to-be international dockless bike- and scooter-sharing service that was acquired by Uber in May 2018. 

JUMP currently has bikes in New York, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Sacramento, Santa Cruz and Providence, and both bikes and scooters in Austin and Santa Monica.

“You’re not worried about purchasing it, storing it, maintaining it,” said Rzepecki, a 2001 graduate of the Smeal College of Business and the Schreyer Honors College, who was recently back on the University Park campus to accept the Schreyer Honors College 2018 Outstanding Scholar Alumnus Award. “It’s there when you need it. It’s really convenient to access.”

Rzepecki was finishing up a master’s degree in urban planning at Hunter College in 2008 when he saw a video about Velib, a large-scale, public bicycle-sharing system in Paris, France. The sharing technology was in the docking point; Rzepecki wondered if putting it in the bike itself would be a better idea.

“At this point, though, the iPhone had only been out for a year,” he said. “Putting a cell connection on a bicycle was kind of a crazy idea.”

By the spring of 2010, Rzepecki had completed an internship with the New York City Department of Transportation, which had offered him a full-time job. He politely said no thank you, choosing instead to pursue JUMP — Social Bicycles, as it was originally known — full-time. He hired contractors to develop a prototype and proof of concept. The initial idea was a lock that would attach to any bike, but Rzepecki and his team quickly realized that most bicycles weren’t built for 365-day sharing in urban environments. They then developed their own bicycle.

In 2017, two large projects the company had been working on fell flat, resulting in heavy revenue losses. So Rzepecki and his team made a series of major moves. Instead of selling the bikes and charging for technology fees, they became owners and operators of the fleet. They also rebranded from Social Bicycles to JUMP, introduced an electric bicycle they had been working on for years, established a commercial partnership with Uber to get its bikes in the company’s app, and raised enough venture capital to launch 250 bikes in San Francisco.

“Every one of those moves was needed and over a pretty tight time period,” Rzepecki said. “If we hadn’t done those things, we probably would have been bankrupt, but we were able to put it together and get a good outcome.”

Currently, the company has 15,000 regular bicycles and 4,000 electric bikes in circulation, but Rzepecki said there is a chance that within the next two years, there will be more than a million bikes in cities around the world as JUMP expands its international profile.

“It’s still very motivating to know that we make a real impact and change the way cities operate, change the way people move,” he said. “Go to any one of our cities where the bikes are live and you will see people riding them and enjoying them and depending on them becoming a new part of their lives. It’s been really exciting.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total more than 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses. They represent the top 2 percent of students at Penn State who excel academically and lead on campus.

Last Updated November 19, 2018