Cooperatives in industry and services share their expertise for the design of the EC Start Up Initiative

11 Aug 2016 

CECOP has recently published the answer of cooperatives active in industry and services to a European Commission (EC) Public consultation under the Start-up Initiative. Divided into three primary phases (the stand-up phase, the start-up phase and the scale-up phase), the information gathered from this consultation among CECOP members will help in identifying possible solutions and designing new policy and support measures to address start-ups’ needs.

For the sake of sustainability of newly established enterprises, CECOP calls for initiatives providing constant business support (services, training and counseling) during “all the stages of an enterprise life” and not only focusing on start-up phase. CECOP also asks the European Commission and member states to implicate cooperative representative organisations in the design and implementation of policies at EU and national level. Stand-up phase CECOP have insisted both on the need for support and advice structures to encourage entrepreneurial activities provided primarily at local level and for higher education institutions to establish programmes to support cooperative entrepreneurship.

Organisations of cooperatives in industry and services across Europe have generally established regional offices providing support services for future cooperative entrepreneurs or existing cooperatives. “This local presence is crucial in order to provide an adequate service and to raise awareness among potential future entrepreneurs inside communities that could be catalysed into cooperative activities to meet local needs and aspirations”, express CECOP in its Position. In countries such as Italy, France or Spain where cooperatives in industry and services have reached their highest level of development, regional authorities recognize cooperatives’ contribution to local development, creation of employment, contribution to the general interest and valorization of regional skills. CECOP suggests this “good practice” should be replicated in other European countries and regions.

Cooperatives of the CECOP network demand cooperative entrepreneurship education to be introduced in universities programmes but also in other levels of formal education. The values and modalities of cooperative entrepreneurship are often neglected in curricula, with, as a consequence, ignorance about the cooperative entrepreneurial model among potential future entrepreneurs but also other professions involved in entrepreneurial activities and having a critical impact such as lawyers, accountants, human resources managers etc.

Start-up phase Access to finance and, the fact that, in many countries, the cooperative is not considered as an appropriate model for start-ups are the main obstacles faced at this primary phase. CECOP has shared with the EC examples of financial innovation developed by cooperative organisations like the project Coopstartup created by the Italian organization Coopfond, aiming at promoting cooperative start-ups among young people with a strong focus on new markets. Innovation being a crucial element for the sustainability and competitiveness of start-ups, cooperatives active in industry and services are in favour of a support provided by universities, in collaboration with research centers and enterprises for the strengthening and implementation of innovative projects.

The multi-stakeholder cooperative model, bringing together different types of stakeholders, is often used by cooperatives active in innovative sectors (R&D, renewable energies etc). The experience of cooperatives from the CECOP’s network proves that innovation should not be reduced only to technology, like the social cooperatives prove by combining organisational and social innovation in order to provide an effective and new offer in health and social care and keep the ownership over the commons inside the community. The enterprises of the CECOP network also demand the promotion of clusters’ creation as a way to access to innovation and value chain through the creation of horizontal groups like in Spain’s Mondragon Group. Scale-up phase Enterprises represented by CECOP have long-term and sustainable growth and employment as their core mission. The Position sent to the EC underlines financial support for the acquisition of capacity-boosting services from both public and private providers as one of the most important measures for scaling-up. Given that the cooperative is not set-up to be sold, cooperatives require medium-long term support to be sustainable in the long run. Thus tailor-made support measures are the most important element for sustainable cooperative scale-ups.