platform co-ops

Co-ops and Capital

This month I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Platform Co-op event at the New School in New York. Organizers Trevor Sholz, Camille Kerr, Palak Shah, and Nathan Schneider showcased many experts and businesses that are making platform co-ops a reality. The participants represented an almost overwhelming array of accomplishments.

But for all the innovation that these businesses are bringing to the world, the challenge of obtaining capital for co-ops is still real. Aaron Tanaka, director of Center for Economic Democracy, described the obstacles the Boston co-op, Cero, had to overcome to finance their co-op. They used the creative approach of a Direct Public Offering, which they paid for, and then needed nearly 100 investors to raise $350,000. This is a great success story, but it should be easier. Financing a co-op is still not understood by financial institutions, according to Elvezio Del Bianco from Vancity Credit Union in Vancouver.

Some presenters offered financial solutions. Brendan Martin from Working World discussed a cooperative network of shared funds called The Madeline System. Elvezio Del Bianco’s Vancity supports new cooperative enterprises. Christina Jennings represented The Shared Capital Cooperative, a national loan fund committed to investing in cooperative enterprises. Derek Razo offered innovative financing at Purpose Economy Ventures.

But Joseph Blasi caught my attention by suggesting that co-ops find funding via Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs). He says ESOPs should be a more utilized by co-ops for capital. ESOPs offer a vehicle for funding that is proven. I’ve considered ESOPs separate from co-ops. According to The Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) in Massachusetts, ESOPs can be hierarchical because they form a trust not necessarily owned by employees. But ESOP structures can vary, and could be setup to form an employee-owned business. It would appear ESOPs can be a solution. But they can also be expensive for small businesses mentioned in a report from the Democracy at Work Institute (PDF).

Financing co-ops can be a challenge, but this gathering of expertise offered encouragement.


Building Website Simplicity and a Democratic Solution

You’re a small organization, and you need to set up a reliable website. If you want a robust site, Drupal can provide endless solutions. Drupal is free, and can be a very powerful content management system (CMS) for your site. But the tech side can stop you from getting it started, and from maintaining the software. A platform co-op called Drutopia, mentioned in a previous post, wants to simplify the tech side of Drupal for your website.

You’ve probably used a content management system (CMS) for the web before — WordPress and Drupal are the most well-known. These CMSs provide people with little technical savvy the ability to create and manage content. But CMSs need a software ‘stack’ to be setup and run, including a web server, PHP, and a database. Drupal also needs to be updated; a lot. Add to this the ins and outs of Drupal 8 and tech aspects start to pile up.

If you want to see who uses Drupal, check out But you’ll see on this site that Drupal 8 is (currently) promoted as an enterprise platform, ie, for big organizations. Drutopia wants to bring Drupal back to small organizations.

WordPress has to help you run your WordPress site. Similarly, Drutopia can help you run your Drupal site. It’s based on software as a service (SasS). Pooled solutions include a Drupal 8 configuration with elements that can be used by a wide range of users. Low or no-cost installs will also help small organizations that need to get up and running.

However, it’s the ownership structure that will make you a member and owner of Drutopia. A service fee and collaborative model will support all stakeholders: users, designers, site builders, and developers. This can build a vibrant support structure so your small organization can focus on what it needs to focus on.

Sign up for Drutopia at to stay involved with its development.