Language teaching platform tops vote at Unfound Accelerator

Red Brick led the poll at the pitching event, followed by Dopo abortion care co-op and food delivery platform Wings

The first of this year’s Unfound Accelerator schemes for new platform co-ops has been completed, with Red Brick language school topping the online vote.

The accelerator – run by Co-operatives UK and Stir to Action with support from the Co-op Bank – saw six ventures join together for a 10-week business development course.

Last night they made pitches at an online event for a share of a £10,000 prize, which will be handed out in proportion to the votes each project gained.

Red Brick topped the poll with 26%. Founder member and teacher Lucy Stephens said teachers and students often get a poor deal from language tuition businesses, and Red Brick wants to offer “fair and just conditions” and to give members a chance to say how the school is run.

Its goal for the next 18 months is to have 10 teachers in place generating turnover of £150,000; in ten years the team hopes to have a multi-stakeholder co-op with 30 teachers, digital course supplements, and independent e-learning, working in partnership with unions and co-ops. 

Placed second in the vote was Dopo, a multi-stakeholder co-op offering abortion care. Co-founder Zachi Brewster said there were problems with stigma, misinformation, social isolation and lack of mental health and other support for patients after an abortion.

Dopo will offer a mutual peer to peer support platform, with 20 trained support providers and privacy and safeguarding measures built into the platform. Members will be those needing care and those providing it, but Dopo hopes to engage teachers, activists, healthcare professionals, MPs and clinics.

Voted third, on 20%, was food delivery platform Wings, which launches in London tomorrow (23 July) as a co-op alternative to food delivery platforms like UberEats and Deliveroo.

Co-founder Rich Mason is a former Deliveroo rider disillusioned with work in the gig economy, where riders “can go hours without work, wondering how to pay the rent, with no line manager to contact”. Wings promises an ethical, zero carbon, zero plastic alternative to the tech giants “stressful and dehumanising” model.

The team has already worked during lockdown to tackle food poverty, mobilising 100 volunteers to move a ton of free food a day to 800 families across London.

It has secured a start-up grant from Islington Council and is recruting riders and restaurants; it will need 60 riders and 1,800 orders a week to be sustainable and aims to have 2,000 customers within three years.

Mr Mason said a community shares model would give more people a stake, and warned that while it is now too late for a co-op to defeat Amazon because it is too strong, this is not the case with food delivery. “The time to act is now,” he said.

Other pitches came from Zahida Palma of We-Guild, a multi-stakeholder co-op which is looking to build an online mutual aid network of trusted contacts to help the UK’s 5.2m self employed and zero hours workers, who often lack the savings they need to see them through emergencies.

David Randall gave the pitch for Crystalisr, an online platform which wants to encourage Preston model style community wealth building. The platform will coordinate partnerships between anchor institutions, such as councils, and small businesses, to ensure that expenditure and contracts stay in communities.

The platform will allow SMEs to scale up and jointly bid on big projects that might be otherwise beyond them, he said, and Crystalisr also wants to help freelancers get contracts. It has been holding discussions with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and several local authorities.

Colin Charles gave the pitch for Africanfuturist Arts, a digital platform for creatives that aims to create an ad-filming agency, small TV station and publisher; it has already put out two books and has more in the pipeline, along with some films and a global poetry contest.

“We’re here to tackle inequality in creative economy,” he said, adding that the creative sector is important because it gives opportunities to minorities and young people.