Startups and Conversions
Incubating New Cooperatives
We love the challenge of starting new co-ops from scratch. Many of our clients are motivated by their desire to create a workplace culture that is more inclusive and respectful of workers, and feel that new organizations are the best way to do that.
Starting new co-ops, just like starting any new business – is very challenging, and inevitably some that start will not succeed. However, we agree that startup co-ops, particularly those started by those who have been systematically denied economic opportunities in the past, present an opportunity to create economic structures that prefigure a more just, sustainable, and cooperative future.
Over many years, we have learned what factors go into a successful startup process:
- a strong, cohesive team;
- a business idea that has been carefully crafted for market, operational, and financial feasibility, and developed into a complete business plan;
- a governance structure that will allow for democratic participation but is not overly complex;
- sufficient financing to pay for startup costs and any anticipated early losses;
- a well-planned launch process without unnecessary glitches or delays
- clear and organized systems for financial management, sales, marketing, operations, and administration;
- getting to profitability within the planned timeline;
- Implementing the education and training program and successfully onboarding the first group of non-founder members
When BCCO makes a commitment to a co-op startup process, we are ready for a long term (3-5 year) partnership. This level of commitment requires advance planning and fundraising, with responsibility shared between BCCO and the co-op or sponsoring organization. Our priority for startup incubation projects is for those initiated by workers who are Black, POC, immigrants, women or non-binary, and/or returning citizens.
Community based organizations: If you are thinking of helping your members create a worker-owned co-op, you will need a partner to supply the nuts and bolts information to make sure the process goes smoothly. For the greatest chance of success, get in touch early in your process. Our framework for co-op development can provide the structure your members need to create a successful business.
Those that have been through a startup process understand how much time, money, and effort go into creating a sustainable company. A business that has figured out how to provide a product or service at a price customers are willing to pay, while paying workers a liveable wage, is truly a valuable thing, and often worth sustaining past the retirement of its founder.
BCCO can help to preserve your workplace as a cooperative, through a process that in some ways resembles the process of starting a new co-op:
- Initial education and interviews to determine interest in a cooperative and to understand the interests of the workers and founder;
- Assessment of the feasibility of success as a cooperative, including the prospect of future profits, a strong management plan, and a sale price and terms that will not place too great a burden on the co-op going forward;
- Design of the new governance structure, including bylaws, policies, and a thorough understanding of the levels of decision making
- Assembling any needed financing: applying for loans, agreeing on seller financing
- Working with a lawyer and accountant on transfer documents, timing of the business transfer
- Post-conversion: support for membership and board process; first year tax returns and patronage allocations
Our approach to co-op conversions emphasizes transparency, leadership development, and fairness for workers. Our goal is for the organization to be a source of stable employment for decades to come.