What Is A Cooperative? And How Do You Start One?

Co-ops are businesses in which the members are the consumers and vote on major policy decisions. Cooperatives are distinct from other company structures in that they prioritize serving the needs of their members above satisfying the demands of outside investors.

Businesses that operate on a cooperative model may range in size from a local purchasing club to a Fortune 500 conglomerate. Those that join a cooperative do so because they value the advantages of bulk buying, shared risk, and democratic governance.

Co-ops are formed to fill a number of voids in the market, including a lack of competition, increased bargaining power, decreased costs, increased access to resources, enhanced product quality, and broader market opportunities.

Co-op Ownership and Control

Cooperative ownership is determined not by a member’s share of the company’s equity but rather by the member’s equity contribution or the member’s level of consumption of the cooperative’s goods and services. This is the main feature that sets a cooperative company structure apart from others.

You don’t have to be an investor in Apple, Inc. to purchase an iPhone or iPad, for example. In a similar vein, you might invest in Apple by buying shares rather than actually using Apple goods. But in a cooperative, only those who utilize the goods or services now or in the past may own them and have access to them.

Traditional businesses give shareholders one vote for each share they own, allowing them to buy as many shares as they want in order to influence corporate decisions. Each cooperative member has one vote, regardless of the number of people in the cooperative. Each member is expected to contribute to the group and shoulder some of the administrative burden.

Video Credit: Darius A. Tent


Less Taxation

Corporation-form cooperatives get the same tax benefits as limited liability companies (LLCs) for patronage dividends sent to its members. Members of a cooperative do not have to pay taxes on their share of the cooperative’s profits twice, but just once.

Funding Opportunities

The sort of cooperative you own or participate in will determine which funding programs are available to you from the government.

Reduce Costs and Improve Products and Services

Cooperatives are able to save money on supplies and other goods and services because of their bulk buying power. When dealing with a larger consumer, suppliers are more likely to provide high-quality goods and services. This allows the cooperative’s members to put their attention where it belongs: on developing better goods and services.

Perpetual Existence

There will be fewer interruptions and greater consistency with a cooperative structure. Cooperatives are unique in that it is possible for members to join and depart on a regular basis without the company collapsing.

Democratic Organization

Cooperatives is characterized by its emphasis on participatory democracy. A cooperative’s ability to meet the demands of its members is guaranteed by its democratic structure. No one member-owner may exert undue influence over decisions since their vote is not disproportionately weighted based on their financial stake in the cooperative. The principle of “one member, one vote” is popular among smaller investors since each member has the same amount of influence as a bigger investor.


Obtaining Capital through Investors

Since the motivation for a member to contribute to a cooperative is tied to the member’s usage of the cooperative’s services and goods, cooperatives may have a slower cash flow. Small investors may be attracted to the cooperative’s “one member-one vote” mentality, but bigger investors may go elsewhere since they will not have more say in the business’s direction regardless of how many shares they purchase.

Lack of Membership and Participation

In order for the firm to function at maximum efficiency, it is crucial that all members cast their votes and carry out their other responsibilities. There is a danger that a cooperative may lose members if low participation rates persist.

Starting a Cooperative

Starting a Cooperative
Starting a Cooperative

Understanding the larger picture is crucial when launching a cooperative. Following these guidelines will give you a better picture of what it takes to launch a cooperative and how to keep things operating smoothly as they grow.

1. Establish a steering committee

A group of persons who can speak for prospective cooperative members is essential. Establish your goals and values. Create a strategy and timeline for expanding and improving the company’s research and development efforts. Plan a get-together of potential members to gauge their interest in joining the co-op.

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2. Carry out a feasibility study

Think critically at the advantages and disadvantages that might make or break the organization’s establishment. Think about the standard problems, such as competition, high operational expenses, and limited funding. Financial and technical support for feasibility studies may be available from municipal or state governments.

3. Draft Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws

It is required by law that all cooperatives be formed in their respective states. Find a lawyer to help with the bylaws and articles of incorporation. Clearly define the nature and extent of your company’s operations. The rules of your cooperative might be relatively simple at first, and then refined when you’ve established a business strategy.

4. Create a business plan and recruit more members

Create a comprehensive business plan that will serve as a guide for getting the organization up and running and as proof of concept for members, banks, and investors.

An executive summary, company description, market analysis, product development, marketing and sales strategy, company structure, and financial data are all standard components of a business plan.

5. Secure financing

No of the goals of your cooperative or the people who make up its membership, you’ll need capital to keep the company afloat and help it flourish. There are several potential funding avenues for this infusion of wealth. Members often put up part of their own cash. Many cooperatives seek funding via bank loans, while others could qualify for seed money.

Initial investment requirements are not a fixed number. The co-op’s funding requirements and strategies for securing them should be outlined in detail.

6. Launch

Establish a physical location and begin recruiting personnel. The next step is to start selling and giving services to members. You should now have an operational, profitable company.


New enterprises may benefit from the adaptability of a cooperative structure. Anyone from workers and customers to community members and businesses may create one. There are several frameworks from which to choose; research the various possibilities to choose the one that works best for your team.


1. What is a cooperative?

A cooperative is a type of business organization owned and controlled by its members, who are also its customers, suppliers, or employees. It operates based on cooperative principles, such as democratic decision-making, shared ownership, and equitable distribution of benefits.

2. How is a cooperative different from other business structures?

Unlike traditional businesses, cooperatives prioritize the collective interests of their members rather than maximizing profits for external stakeholders. Members have an equal say in decision-making and share in the cooperative’s profits or benefits based on their participation.

3. What are the benefits of starting a cooperative?

Starting a cooperative offers several benefits. It provides a democratic and inclusive business structure, empowers members by giving them a voice in decision-making, fosters a sense of community and shared purpose, and allows for equitable distribution of profits or benefits.

4. How do you start a cooperative?

4. How do you start a cooperative?
Starting a cooperative involves several key steps:
1.       Identify the need: Determine if there is a demand for a cooperative in your community or industry. Identify the specific problem or need your cooperative aims to address.
2.       Conduct a feasibility study: Assess the viability and sustainability of the cooperative by evaluating market demand, competition, potential risks, and available resources.
3.       Form a core group: Gather a group of like-minded individuals who share the same vision and are willing to actively participate in the cooperative’s development.
4.       Develop a business plan: Create a comprehensive business plan that outlines the cooperative’s goals, structure, services or products, marketing strategies, and financial projections.
5.       Legal considerations: Consult with legal professionals experienced in cooperative law to determine the appropriate legal structure and fulfill any legal requirements, such as registration or incorporation.
6.       Membership and governance: Define the membership criteria and develop democratic governance structures, including bylaws and membership agreements that outline members’ rights and responsibilities.
7.       Secure financing: Explore funding options such as member investments, loans, grants, or cooperative development organizations that support startup cooperatives.
8.       Launch and operate: Implement your cooperative’s operations, including hiring staff if necessary, setting up infrastructure, and marketing your products or services.
9.       Continuous learning and improvement: Regularly evaluate the cooperative’s performance, engage in ongoing training, and adapt to the evolving needs of members and the market.

5. Can anyone start a cooperative?

Yes, anyone can start a cooperative as long as they have a group of individuals who share a common purpose and are willing to actively participate. Cooperatives are often formed by individuals with shared needs, such as farmers, artisans, consumers, or workers.

6. Are there specific industries that are more suitable for cooperatives?

Cooperatives can be established in various industries, including agriculture, retail, housing, energy, finance, and worker-owned cooperatives across different sectors. The suitability of a cooperative model depends on the specific needs and dynamics of the industry or community it aims to serve.

7. How does membership work in a cooperative?

Membership in a cooperative typically involves fulfilling certain criteria, such as purchasing shares, contributing capital, or meeting specific qualifications. Members have voting rights, participate in decision-making, and may receive dividends or other benefits based on their level of engagement or patronage.

8. Can a cooperative convert to a different business structure?

Yes, it is possible for a cooperative to convert to a different business structure, such as a traditional corporation or a limited liability company (LLC). The process and requirements for conversion vary depending on the jurisdiction and legal framework governing cooperatives in the specific region. 

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