When Uber and Lyft went public, it wasn’t the drivers who got rich — it was the executives, investors and some early employees. In an era when it has become clear that tech executives and investors are frequently the only ones who’ll reap rewards for a company’s success, cooperative startups are getting more attention.
Depending on how it’s set up, a cooperative model offers workers and users true ownership and control in a company; any profits that are generated are returned to the members or reinvested in the company.
Co-ops aren’t new: The nation’s longest-running example is The Philadelphia Contributionship, a mutually owned insurance company founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1752. In 1895, the International Co-operative Alliance formed to serve as a way to unite cooperatives across the world. Some colleges have student-run housing co-ops where cleaning, food preparation and other responsibilities are shared. Today, there are many well-known large-scale co-ops, including outdoor recreation store REI, Arizmendi Bakery in San Francisco and Blue Diamond Growers, one of the world’s largest tree-nut processors.
What’s novel, however, is applying the co-op model to technology startups. Start.coop, an accelerator for cooperative startups, is just one group trying to facilitate that practice.