Five groups of young entrepreneurs will receive funding to develop innovative co-operative businesses.
Last year AltGen, which helps 18-29 year olds set up worker co-ops, and Co-operatives UK announced the Young Co-operators Prize (YCP) as part of a wider campaign to empower young people. Following a 12-month programme, which reached out to 3,000 students and post graduates across the UK, the YCP winners have been announced.
London-based freelance web developers Founders and Coders; Chapel Street Studio Co-operative, a communications service business from Bradford; digital news platform London Student; Plymouth-based co-working space provider, Dialogue; and Ceramics Studio from London will all receive £2,000 to develop innovative new co-op businesses, plus mentoring support and business advice.
James Smith, of London Student, said: “We’re really grateful to AltGen and YCP – not just for their continued support over the past few months but also the advice and grant that we’re delighted to receive.
“We believe the values espoused by the co-operative movement suit our day-to-day operation as well as our overall mission of providing what we feel is a public good – a fair, critical and inquisitive student press.”
“We’re absolutely chuffed to bits,” added Lukas Hornby from Chapel Street Studio Co-operative. “This comes at a prescient time as we start to realise our vision of being the catalyst for Bradford’s new creative economy. We look forward to meeting like-minded co-ops and being part of an important network for young co-operators nationwide.”
As part of the YCP project, AltGen and Co-operatives UK delivered workshops around the country, helping universities, youth groups and other organisations understand the process and develop the skills essential to co-operative working. Working with young entrepreneurs, they sparked business ideas ranging from a co-op brewery and co-op housing to media and arts co-operatives, as well as initiatives with environmental goals.
Applications were then judged on innovation and replicability, viability, team strength, and co-operative values and principles.
“We are incredibly excited to announce five winners with such diverse, innovative and exciting ideas that can really help us demonstrate to young people what a co-operative alternative to the current working reality will look like in practice,” said Rhiannon Colvin, of AltGen. “What has amazed us the most throughout this process is the amount of skills, ideas, passion and talent demonstrated by all of our applicants and the people we have engaged with over the last year.”
“It’s inspiring to see such a huge range of creative ideas,” added Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK. “Co-operation is a natural home for today’s new generation of entrepreneurs. The prize demonstrates that young people are inspired by the idea of setting up their own businesses – and rather than doing it alone they are doing it together.”
Founders and Coders, one of the five winners, is a community of developers and a coding academy, whose profits go back into improving the quality of the training programmes and supporting graduates entering employment.
It runs a 16-week programme. For the first eight weeks, students take part in a free, intensive, full-stack web-development course. They are then invited to remain in the Founders and Coders space, where they team up with mentors to work on external, paid projects.
“Starting Founders and Coders has been an amazing adventure so far. We can’t wait to see where it goes and we are so happy to now have the support of Altgen and Co-operatives UK,” said developer William Fisher.
“We have a backlog of work ready to start on as soon as a freelancer finishes on one. We are very low-cost. Apart from the rent, there are no overheads. All profits are reinvested back into the model and help spread free learning.”
Out of 15 students who completed a Founders and Coders course in November, nine are now working full-time on freelance projects secured by the very organisation that delivered the learning in the first place. And the graduates can also become a member of the growing army of freelance web developers who make up Founders and Coders.
“It is a wonderful example of a young co-operative which is having a major impact on people’s lives. Co-operative principles are at the heart of all their activities. It ticks all the YCP boxes,” said Mr Mayo.
One of those boxes is an age bracket of 18 to 29 for the majority of the team. At 50 years old, Founders and Coders mentor Dan Sofer fails to meet that particular age grade – but was instrumental in setting up the worker co-op, whose membership has an average age of 25.
“This whole thing developed through doing an online course to build up my own skills. I found it hard to discipline myself,” he said.
Dan took it upon himself to co-ordinate learning sessions for like-minded software development students, an experience that evolved into running free coding courses through the Camden Collective before setting up Founders and Coders last year. Free education remains at the heart of the organisation’s aims – with the YCP money key to sustaining graduates.
Find out more about the Young Co-operators Prize at y-c-p.co.uk