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Startup Helps Fend Off Car Repair Ripoffs

BodyShopBids clears the confusion around disparate car-repair quotes
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A combination of forces led BodyShopBids founder Brad Weisberg to start his business. In July 2011 he lost his job at social travel app He had access to Lightbank, a Chicago incubator and VC firm launched by Groupon founders Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell. And he finally had time to work on an idea that had been percolating since he walked out of a restaurant in 2005 to find a dent in his silver Infiniti G5.

To fix it, Weisberg collected repair estimates ranging from $300 to an inexplicable $1,200. He figured if drivers could use smartphones to send photos to reputable body shops, they could save time and get the best deal.

So he cashed his bar mitzvah bonds and final commission check, borrowed $5,000 from his parents and set up shop at a vacant desk at Lightbank.

Once he had a prototype, he scored a meeting with Lefkofsky and Keywell and walked away with $250,000 in seed money.

The result is better than Weisberg had imagined. Customers set up an account through the BodyShopBids app or website, upload photos of a damaged vehicle and fill out a description. (Weisberg claims the fastest report took less than three minutes to complete.) Participating repair shops can log in at any time to see what work is available nearby and submit an estimate. The goal is to provide customers with no less than four competitive bids within 24 hours. Once a bid is accepted, the site notifies the shop that it won the job and connects the parties.

In less than a year, more than 1,000 body shops in Illinois, California, Oregon and Washington signed on. Leroy Gambill, manager of Chicago's Jordan Automotive, has seen volume rise by about 10 percent--five to eight more cars a month--since becoming a BodyShopBids provider.

The app has processed more than $4 million in claims; Weisberg collects a small, undisclosed percentage of each job. Next, he's developing partnerships with insurance companies; the goal is to make it easier for customers to have insurers pay for repairs through the app.

Weisberg has raised $1 million in Series A funding led by OCA Ventures with participation from Lightbank and New World Ventures; the money will be used to expand into other markets and refine the technology. "It's an industry that has not been infused with technology in such a long time," Weisberg says. "There's so much we can do with it."