New business accelerator launched for UK platform co-ops

Co-operatives UK and Stir to Action are leading two UnFound porgrammes this year, funded by the Co-op Bank

A business support programme for platform co-operatives in the UK opened today (22 March).

The UnFound Accelerator programme – run by Co-operatives UK and Stir to Action with funding from the Co-op Bank – will give 16 teams of tech entrepreneurs the chance to take part in two accelerators in 2021. The second round will come later in the year.

Each accelerator offers eight teams a 10-week programme of masterclasses ending with a pitch event with the chance to win part of a £10,000 prize funded by the Bank.

Platform co-operatives are businesses that use a website or mobile app to trade, connect people and pool resources. They rely on democratic decision-making and shared ownership of the platform by workers and users, and have been advocated as an ethical alternative to giant tech corporations like Amazon and Uber – which have grown in influence after the pandemic accelerated the shift to digital commerce.

The UnFound Accelerators will be led by industry experts to help the teams develop their platform business to work co-operatively as well as to develop their product, business planning and strategy, and branding and marketing.

Each accelerator will end with a pitch event offering teams the chance to win part of a £10,000 prize funded by The Co-operative Bank. Furthermore, teams will access expert support and funding opportunities as they prepare to launch their emerging platform businesses. The first pitch event takes place on 21 July, with the second cohort taking the stage towards the end of the year.

Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK, said: “Today’s modern co-operative movement sits at the centre of a spectrum of dynamic new developments. Collaborative tech sits front and central to this and Co-operatives UK has been at the forefront of supporting game-changing platform co-ops for a number of years.

“At Co-operatives UK we are anticipating an exponential growth of these new-look co-operatives and absolutely believe they are well placed to tackle some of society’s new problems just as the original Rochdale Pioneers faced and solved the issues around food supply.”

She added: “The future of co-operation is focused on solving complex new problems and to provide business solutions for new and existing co-operatives. The desire to create and operate fair and equitable tech platforms has increased in direct response to the pandemic with notable examples emerging in the sectors such as care, food and logistics. Good examples are Equal Care Co-op, a social care platform that puts care givers and receivers in control, and Open Food Network, an open source platform that enables new, ethical food supply chains.

“Thanks to the support of The Co-operative Bank this pioneering programme is designed to accelerate the development of platform co-ops offering opportunities for an emerging new wave of tech entrepreneurs united in their passion to create positive change.”

Catherine Douglas, managing director for SME at The Co-operative Bank, said: “We are committed to supporting co-operative businesses and helping them have a positive impact on the economy, society and their communities. We’re therefore delighted to support the UnFound Accelerator programme, which will provide invaluable guidance and support to new platform co-operatives, and will bring together entrepreneurs that want to develop their digital business in a more collaborative and equitable way.” 

Jonny Gordon-Farleigh, founder of Stir to Action, said: “The digital economy does not have to be the new shorthand for low wages and insecure work. The relaunch of the UnFound accelerator this year is another opportunity to ensure the future of business is not just doing ‘good’, but democratic.”

The rise of the platform economy over the last decade promised to boost flexible employment, extra income, and collaborative consumption. Instead, the ‘disruption’ of the digital economy has exploited regulations, increased precariousness of work, and created the conditions for digital giants to dominate markets.

Platform co-ops bring together people that want to develop their digital business in a more collaborative and equitable way. 

Applications are open for the first UnFound Accelerator and the deadline for applications is 11 April. Visit: www.unfound.coop/accelerator

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