Startup company Wheelz makes its debut on the UC Berkeley campus today. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Fittingly, on a day when Berkeleyside is holding its Startup Berkeley Forum, a startup is making its debut on the UC Berkeley campus — and students who own cars are set to benefit.

Wheelz is a car sharing service that connects students with cars to students who need them. While car borrowers get where they need to go — to run errands, go on a date, attend interviews or take a trip off campus to Napa or Tahoe — car owners earn extra cash by putting their cars to good use.

As a bonus, the scheme may take a little pressure off the city’s environmental and parking woes in the process.

Wheelz launched on the Stanford campus last September and 500-plus students there are signed up and using the 25 vehicles registered with Wheelz, according to Jeff Miller, a co-founder and the company’s chief executive.

Asked why he chose Berkeley for the second roll-out, Miller said: “Berkeley is one of the premier universities that takes a deep interest in sustainability and has historically been very forward thinking. The campus has a great mix of car owners and potential renters. Taking those factors into account, Berkeley was a very logical choice for our next campus.”

The average car owner takes in $200 per month by loaning out their vehicle through car sharing service Wheelz

Wheelz works similarly to Zipcar, the international car-sharing service, in that users sign up for the service, and reserve the use of a Wheelz car as needed. Unlike Zipcar’s dedicated fleet of vehicles, however, Wheelz’s cars are provided by local car owners, who are, in turn, compensated for their use.

Wheelz is an attractive incentive for cash-strapped students — the average car owner takes in $200 per month by loaning out their vehicle through Wheelz during times when their car would simply sit idly in the parking lot.

Proprietary DriveBox technology and iPhone app allows car owners to broker transaction and renters to locate a nearby vehicle, book a reservation, and access a car securely and quickly. There is never a need for the owner to meet the renter to exchange keys and payments, which saves busy students time while they study, attend class, or balance extracurriculars.

For car owners who may be hesitant to let strangers behind the wheel of their personal vehicles, Wheelz offers two safety measures: a comprehensive million-dollar insurance policy for participants, and a transparent reservation system that allows everybody to see who’s borrowing from whom.

The service is also integrated with Facebook, so a car owner can decide ahead of time whether to let a friend of a friend borrow from them – or not. Wheelz’s customer service team also offers 24/7 roadside assistance.

Wheelz has a special offer for car owners in honor of the launch: the first 25 car owners to sign up will be rewarded with free monthly car washes and guaranteed revenue of $150 per month for the first two months. Wheelz is also offering a discount to Berkeley students who sign up for the first time, giving $20 in driving credit to users who mention the code “launch” during registration.

Zipcar recently led a $13.7 million investment in Wheelz which is looking at adding programs at USC and UCLA next.

Startup Berkeley, the Berkeleyside Local Business Forum 2012 organized in partnership with Mechanics Bank, and sponsored by GreenerPrinter and Autodesk, takes place tonight: Monday March 5th, 7:00- 9:00 pm. Doors open at 6:00 pm (time before and after for networking). WhereFreight & Salvage Coffeehouse, 2020 Addison Street in downtown Berkeley. Refreshments, including beer and wine, available to purchase. Tickets: $10 ($5 for students and seniors), available through Brown Paper Tickets or on the door.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...