UnFound: For start-up platform businesses

UnFound is for tech founders and start-ups looking for a different way to set-up and run platform businesses.

It brings together platforms that would like to go about their business in a more collaborative and inclusive way. differently. We want to make the digital economy our own. 

UnFound is run in partnership between Co‑operatives UK and Stir to Action, with support from The Hive – the business support programme from Co‑operatives UK and The Co‑operative Bank. 

Why UnFound?

  • Digital companies are monopolising key economic sectors
  • Labour platforms are encouraging precarious employment practices
  • Co-operatives can expand their presence in the digital economy
  • There is a demand for user and worker-owned digital platforms
  • Co-operative models can be more competitive than investor-owned models
  • Crowdfunding can challenge investor capital
  • What’s a Platform Co-op?
  • A platform co-operative is a co-owned, democratically-governed business that uses an online platform or mobile app to enable people to meet their needs or solve a problem by networking people and assets.

What is a platform business?

A platform business is any business that primarily utilises digital networks to deliver their service.

For example, online marketplaces facilitate the buying and selling of goods between networked parties, and receive a percentage of each transaction in return. Taxi platforms provide a convenient way for service users to access taxis, and a way of generating fares for drivers, while simultaneously regulating supply and demand through pricing strategies.

An online store outlet selling goods on behalf of a majority-offline company would not classify as a platform business, as the business taking place in the platform is not the primary service, and because it is based on one-way transactions rather than a network

What is a platform co-op?

A platform co-op is any business that operates on or through a digital platform and offers democractic ownership and governance.

The following platform co-operatives already exist:

  • Resonate – a music streaming platform
  • Equal Care Co-operative (UK) – a new care and support co-operative
  • Stocksy (Canada – global operations) – a stock photo and video footage co-operative
  • Up & Go (New York) – a worker owned cleaning service
  • Taxi App (UK) 

In 2018, UnFound ran a pilot accelerator programme, taking eight platform co‑ops through an intense programme. Read about the eight teams below.

In 2019, UnFound will take the form of a roadshow, visiting tech and innovation hubs across the UK. More details will be announced on 19 February.


The UnFound class of 2018 

CabFair

In the early stages of formation, CabFair has come about in response to taxi platforms run by corporate giants that put profit over people. This co-op aims to provide an ethical, responsible alternative to services such as Uber, Lyft and Taxify. Owned by drivers and users, it’s all about putting drivers firmly in control of the company – through participatory ownership that gives them a strong voice.

"CabFair will offer all the benefits of easy-to-use, affordable transport while focusing on drivers’ rights, being safe for users and complying with local regulations and tax obligations. And rather than going to shareholders, profits will be distributed among members."

Equal Care Co-op

Equal Care Co-op is building a new, co-owned social care platform that connects providers and recipients of care and puts both groups in charge. The platform will provide quality care for people with physical or learning disabilities, mental health conditions and life limiting illness – with the added benefits of lowered admin costs, choice, consistency, ownership and oversight for relatives and the people being supported.

"We believe in a fair, relationship-centred approach to giving care where power is shared equally between the person giving and the person receiving care and support."

Schumacher Commons

Schumacher College focuses its education on tackling the ecological, economic and social challenges of the twenty first century. Schumacher Commons is a digital platform for the college’s alumni and friends, enabling them to access events, learning, information and social financing. It is also aiming to provide a practitioners hub where members can collaborate to prototype new innovations that solve problems.

"By creating an online platform for worker members steeped in Schumacher College’s culture of learning, we can support the development of projects to find solutions for the multiple social, economic and environmental crises facing people and the planet."

The Media Fund

The Media Fund brings media providers and users together to allow the public to have a say in how the media is run – with 40 media partners from national and local press and broadcasters – and 300 subscriber members. Subscriptions support the media organisations and in return, members have a say in the rules for how the media partners operate.

"The mainstream media is out of touch with the public and unaccountable for failures, but independent media has always been precarious, often running on voluntarism and good will. We exist to provide security and support for quality, independent journalism so it can flourish in the long term."

The Physio Co-op

The Physio Co-op is building a new platform to enable small, self-employed, private chartered physio businesses to continue to serve their communities and compete more effectively. The co-op is being supported by Physio First, a 3,000 strong trade body that champions innovation and best practice.  

"The Physio Co-op will enable members to respond to sector consolidation, large commercial competition, and to future proof their valuable clinical autonomy."

We Collective (Weco)

WeCo (short for ‘We Collective’) is a social news platform designed to empower online communities to work together and share information more effectively. Similar to Reddit, but operating within a transparent, co-operatively owned and democratically governed framework, WeCo is working towards offering a range of additional and unique features, with the aim of becoming a viable alternative to existing privately-owned social media giants.

"WeCo is for members of online communities looking for a scalable way to share information, self-organise, and self-govern – helping them achieve their goals more effectively whilst protecting them against the dangers of for-profit, platform structures."

Land Explorer

UK land is often snapped up by developers, pension funds or overseas companies to be ‘banked’ rather than used productively. And when it is developed, it’s often used to maximise profits. Land Explorer has been created in response to this – to enable more land to be managed for the common good. It’s an interactive online mapping platform that provides information on land resources: use, ownership and planning. Its aim is to support co-ops, CICs, charities and not-for-profits to access the information they need to solve community issues using land.

“Land Explorer helps to level the playing field for community-led development: housing, workspaces, green spaces, energy generation and rural or farming enterprises.”

Open Food Network UK

A co-operative of independent food producers, retailers and distributors, the Open Food Network’s platform provides secure servers and online tools for members – which enable them to customise their own online shop front, flexibly take orders, make deliveries, collect payments, connect with producers, distributors and other shopfronts, grow customers, share ideas and develop their enterprise.

“We believe that the supermarket-dominated food system is broken. By working together, sharing skills, ideas and resources, we can provide good, nutritious, affordable food to everyone and maintain a livelihood for small and medium scale food producers.”