While attending Antioch College in Ohio she majored in economics and scored an internship analyzing how Seattle's water and sewer bills could be combined. Later, she moved back to Seattle, and she and three friends started a tenants union.
"Seattle was growing fast, and no one had leases, and rents were going up," she said. "There was discrimination against families with children, and landlords could kick anyone out with 40 days' notice. I thought these policies were unfair and hurt innocent people who didn't have much money."
She received her MBA at DePaul University in 1988 to benefit her various social missions.
"I thought there was a discipline and a bottom-line understanding that I thought would be very helpful, that the nonprofit sector was lacking," Feigon said.
When she learned that there was a Chicago-based nonprofit that combined her environmental, housing and transportation goals, she set up a meeting with the founder. After serving a couple of years on the Center for Neighborhood Technology board, the nonprofit hired her in 1991 to help with development. Co-workers say she quickly made her mark as a go-to person who could make a project happen.
"Sharon is not the kind of person to spend time in a back room thinking," said Julia Parzen a member of the I-GO executive committee. "She's going to come up with an idea, and she'll be on the phone two minutes later."
Before running I-GO, Feigon was the center's manager of research and development and managed several projects, including Greener Cleaner, which is a dry cleaning service that avoids toxic solvents used by traditional dry cleaners. A staffer traveled to England with a bag of dirty clothes to try a similar idea there before they decided to bring the concept to Chicago.
Feigon originally agreed to run I-GO for just six months.
"It took a couple of years of saying, 'I'll do it for a little bit longer,' and then I was just so immersed in it. As soon as it started to work, it was really exciting to watch it grow. It was hard to walk away from it," she said.
When I-GO reached 1,000 members in 2006, it celebrated with a party at the Ann Sather restaurant in Lakeview.
"That was a big moment," Feigon said. "We had all kinds of people show up."
That same year, Zipcar came to town. Suddenly, car sharing, a still relatively unknown niche, became front-page news. The Chicago Tribune's headline: "All the car — without all the fuss."
In one way, the two car-sharing companies couldn't be more different. I-GO is a nonprofit; Zipcar a for-profit. I-GO's mission is to serve Chicago and the surrounding community. Zipcar's sandbox is "the world." In terms of size, Zipcar reported revenue of $131 million in 2009 and $186 million in 2010. I-GO reported revenue of $4.3 million in 2009.
"I think if you were to look 'under the hood,' you'd see that the two companies are a lot more alike than different," said Greg Winter, spokesman for Cambridge-Mass.-based Zipcar. "The key difference between us is that our global vision requires a much different capital model than one dedicated to serving a single city."
Although tension between the two firms remains, Feigon admits that Zipcar has helped bring more attention to car sharing, which benefits I-GO.
While I-GO is in more neighborhoods than Zipcar, in most areas the companies overlap. Zipcar and I-GO cars are usually parked side by side.
"With the industry being a decade old now, and with operations in Chicago having been going for most of that time, it's really no secret which neighborhoods are good fits for car sharing," Winter said.
When Feigon, 59, talks about cities around the globe, she starts with transportation: bike sharing in Paris; cars leaving Times Square in New York; and Copenhagen, the world's most bike-friendly city.
Sharon Feigon, CEO of I-GO Car Sharing