Start.coop - The Nuts-and-Bolts of Boston's First Co-op Accelerator
Startup accelerators are commonplace in the Boston tech/entrepreneurial space, with each of them bringing their own perspective to how to grow a business.
For example, the recently launched Start.coop focuses on helping companies that are utilizing the co-op model. The organization currently has five startups in its initial cohort that are working in different fields.
Greg Brodsky, Start.coop’s Founder and Director, spoke with us to talk about the story behind the organization, its unique co-op model and what sets it apart from other accelerators, and he shared the details on the companies part of its cohort.
Colin Barry [CB]: Before we start talking about Start.coop, let’s talk about your background. What was your career prior to the accelerator?
Greg Brodsky [GB]: Cooperatives have been a part of my life from the earliest days. My father, Howard Brodsky, co-founded Carpet One, a purchasing co-op for carpet stores that grew into one of the largest retail floor covering companies in the world, representing over 2000 stores around the country. Fast forward to my career, which has been a blend of strategy, tech, and entrepreneurship. I’ve remained actively involved in the co-op world throughout. I created the first purchasing co-op for bike shops and co-founded the Independent Brewers Alliance, a purchasing co-op for craft brewers that helps them buy bottles, cans, cardboard, and other materials at a lower cost. In between, I’ve spent time in startups and the tech industry, often pondering how to combine the best of both worlds. Today, the Start.coop team and I are looking to combine the member-driven values of cooperatives, with the lean principles of the tech industry, to help co-ops scale.
CB: Now onto Start.coop. What led you to start an accelerator? What was the big a-ha moment behind it?
GB: There is a rich ecosystem of mentors, investors, and accelerators that supports traditional tech startups as they scale, but the new cooperatives had been left behind. Their unique distributed ownership structure makes them incompatible with most accelerators and venture capital deals. Start.coop was created to change that. We wanted to give entrepreneurs a recipe and a toolbox for how to create the next generation of scalable co-ops.
CB: Start.coop is focused on the co-op model. Could you explain what that model is to our readers?
GB: Co-ops are businesses owned for the benefit of their members-- workers, users, and/or consumers-- who share in the profits and benefits. Today, the co-op model isn’t well understood, but co-ops are all around us: REI, Ace Hardware, Cabot, Ocean Spray, and your local credit union are some examples. There are more than 40,000 co-ops in the United States.
By providing members with direct ownership to the company, we are fixing the incentives structures so that the company focuses on its members rather than just extracting value to the outside shareholders.
Co-ops offer a distributed ownership model that shares prosperity with a much broader population. In this age of corporate consolidation where the barriers to entry have only increased, co-ops create economies of scale for economically disadvantaged groups such as women, minorities, immigrants, family businesses, and veterans. By design, co-ops bring ownership and economic power to their shareholders whether that be through shared profits, higher wages or lower costs. And by joining together, co-op members can create access to products, services or markets not otherwise available.
CB: The accelerator market is a bit crowded in Boston. What sets Start.coop apart from the others?
GB: Start.coop is the first and only accelerator program designed to help scale cooperatively-owned startups and cooperative tech platforms-- not just in Boston, but actually across the United States. (Our five teams are from MA, NY, MD, CA, and OR) We bring together an ecosystem of strategic support designed to increase the entrepreneurs’ likelihood of economic success and social impact. Participants take part in a 10-week program and have access to strategic tools, mentorship and $10,000 in investment as they build their transformative, scaleable, cooperatively-owned businesses.
CB: Could you highlight the companies that are in the cohort?
GB: Start.coop’s inaugural cohort includes:
The Staffing Co-op - This revolutionary staffing platform is owned by its workers and provides staffing services for companies ranging from food service to construction, and also provides an on-demand labor platform for tech and creative workers
Driver’s Seat Data Co-op - Driver’s Seat is a platform co-op that helps rideshare drivers increase their earnings by collecting and analyzing their trip data. Driver’s Seat generates additional value for driver-members by marketing aggregated, anonymized data to industry and civic organizations.
Savvy Cooperative - Savvy is the nation’s first patient-owned health data platform. Savvy’s platform co-op connects patients and research companies to advanced patient-centered care via patient surveys, studies, and other “gigs”. Patients not only earn money from their participation in gigs, but in sharing in the profits of the co-op.
Expert Collective - Expert Collective is a two-sided marketplace that connects academic experts with industry need across finance, biotech, healthcare, manufacturing, and software development. The platform is owned by its academic experts and serves to make accessing world-class knowledge a frictionless experience. The founders hope to tap into the US $241 billion consulting market.
Arizmendi Roots & Returns - This new affordable housing co-op is looking to accelerate affordable housing development by creating Accessory Dwelling Units in the bay area. The team believes that building affordable housing can be profitable not only to investors, but also workers and homeowners. Arizmendi has a history of creating scalable worker co-ops, having created a network of worker-owned bakery locations around California’s bay area, and more recently worker-owned construction and landscape design companies.
CB: A lot of accelerators across Boston host their own community events and participate in other events across the city. What are some of the events that Start.coop has taken part in?
GB: Start.coop and our inaugural cohort just returned from a week of events in San Francisco to celebrate our cohort graduation where we participated and pitched at the SEED Conference (building a better impact investor ecosystem), the Transform Conference (large-scale systems change and new funding connections), and User, Worker, Owner! (building equitable ownership of workplaces and online platforms). We had multiple teams connecting with impact investors and foundations and I’m very proud to say that Savvy Cooperative took home the $12,500 grand prize from the SEED Conference pitch competition.
CB: Any other additional comments you’d like to make?
GB: Because of the massive wealth inequality we all know about, people are looking for alternatives to winner take all economics. We feel that cooperative ownership provides a compelling alternative by sharing ownership and profits by design. And that’s why we are seeing such interest in our model from both entrepreneurs and funders.
Images courtesy of Start.coop