FAQs

Cooperatives

“Co-op” refers to a cooperatively owned business. Co-ops are privately owned businesses that are owned and controlled by the people who directly use its products, supplies or services. Cooperative ownership, by its nature, shares profits and corporate governance with the people who directly support that business, from staff to customers and in between. Co-ops can exist in any sector, and at any level of the supply chain. Learn more about different kinds of co-ops here.

While cooperatives can take donations, they are generally not eligible for tax deductible donations. However cooperatives can secure tax deductible donations if an aligned 501c3 non-profit agrees to act as a fiscal sponsor for donations.

In the United States, co-ops are generally for profit businesses. Co-ops share ownership and profits more broadly than in traditional ownership models, so that a range of stakeholders — from staff to customers — all share in the success of the business.

Cooperatives are businesses, and starting any new business is difficult. How you incorporate as a co-op depends on the state you live in, but on the business planning side, it generally involves many of the same steps as starting a traditional business. At Start.coop we strongly advocate a lean co-op approach, where you start with a well developed business plan and then test the assumptions in your plan as quickly as possible with your community of potential owners and customers.

The Program

The Start.coop accelerator program currently accepts applications for a single cohort of 6-8 cooperatives each year. We hope to grow our offering in the future to accommodate more of the inquiries we are receiving.

At least two of the in-person weeks will take place in Boston and the other two rotate based on the locations and preferences of the co-ops in each cohort. Start.coop provides a stipend to cover travel costs for in-person sessions.

Greg Brodsky is our full time program director and our advisors are established leaders in cooperative business, finance, operations design thinking, marketing, and social impact. We are fortunate to also draw on over 35 additional mentors and advisors who volunteer their time and effort to support the cooperatives who come through our program. You can see more about Start.coop’s leadership team here.

If selected, you’ll need to commit to attending least 80% of all accelerator sessions.

Our accelerator program is a 12-week program that combines in-person and remote learning and collaboration: four weeks are in-person and the remaining eight weeks are conducted virtually. The four main program elements are 1: Our rigorous curriculum, 2: strategic mentorship, 3: connection to recommended service providers familiar with cooperative enterprise, and 4: investment in your co-op. See our accelerator page for more details.

No, we are looking for the best cooperative entrepreneurs based anywhere in North America. As long as you can travel to participate in the four in-person weeks of the accelerator program you are eligible to apply.

Mentors are selected based on their ability to contribute specific, skills, wisdom, business or sector experience.  While we do not actively solicit mentors, if you are interested in learning more about our mentor program, please send us a note on our connect page.

Applications are open now, and our next cohort will run Spring 2020.

Application Process

January 19th

Like most accelerators, investors, loan funds, and foundations, we look for a strong business plan and evidence of real traction within your potential community of users, owners, and customers.

We are focused on building the next generation of co-ops and unlocking ownership for those traditionally left out of wealth generation in our country. We select the co-ops with the greatest potential to contribute to this goal and give them everything we’ve got, from curriculum to mentorship to investment. We intentionally accept a small cohort in order to create a supportive and intense learning environment that we believe will foster the best outcomes for the entrepreneurs, the co-ops, and our society writ-large. Our belief is that by lifting up and bringing together the most promising cooperative entrepreneurs each year, entrepreneurs will learn from each other, support each other, and increase their odds of success.

See our Selection Criteria page

We get that you are a new business in planning, and that you may not yet have a finished business plan (most business plans are never really finished anyway). Please take a look at our application preview page for guidance on what we’re looking for, and you can use those questions as an outline for a business plan deck.

Even if you are very early in the process, you are still welcome to apply, as our application questions are designed to mimic a pitch process and include many of the questions you’ll need to be able to answer in order to build a business plan.

Our program is very selective so we also encourage you to connect with regional co-op developers in your area, and also look at online resources like this example lean start-up business plan.

The Financials

Start.coop will invest $15,000 in each team selected for our 2020 cohort.

Yes. Most cooperatives that we talk to are looking for outside investment, so we work with cooperatives to make sure they are set-up to offer an investor share class.  Start.coop will generally invest via your preferred share class and to help model an investment path to other investors.

If you are interested in empowering entrepreneurs to build transformative, scalable, cooperatively-owned businesses by investing in Start.coop or our graduates, reach out on our contact page Contact and we’ll set up a time to talk.

Access to early stage financing is one of the most difficult challenges that most new businesses face, and cooperative ownership creates additional considerations. The relative lack of early stage financing is why we advocate for a lean start-up approach, so that you are only developing the smallest possible version of your business to support early and cost-efficient testing, learning, and growth.

Unfortunately many early stage entrepreneurs have to bootstrap out of savings or depend upon friends/family until they can show some initial business traction with owners, users or customers. We hope to help ease that financial burden by providing an initial investment and by connecting our graduates to loan funds and other social impact investors.

See our list of co-op friendly loan funds under additional resources.

We are thrilled to have the support of a number of leading co-operative ventures, including CCA Global Partners, Equal Exchange, Cooperative Fund of New England, Local Enterprise Assistance Fund, Cabot Dairy Cooperative. We are also grateful to have received start-up funds from committed individuals in the co-op community.

Post Program

Pay it Forward: After participating in our accelerator program, our graduates are obligated to repay the investments we’ve made in their cooperative so that we can continue to offer this program to others, we call this our Pay It Forward plan.

In order to provide start-up friendly financing, the investments we make in cooperatives are all equity investments, generally paid back by the cooperative setting aside a small percentage of revenue up to a predetermined cap on return.  We will work with you to create a financial plan for your co-op, and also the term sheet for investment.

Annual Meeting Attendance: All graduates also become shareholders of Start.coop, and we ask that all graduates attend our annual meeting, even if virtually, so that we can come together as a community and share updates on the business we now own together, Start.coop.