Organization launches incubator and support network to educate and uplift the Gem City
It’s easy to assume that all startups are led by private ownership and individual founders. But a new Ohio organization aims to remind people that there are other ways to launch businesses, especially those with plans to improve local communities. CO-OP Dayton is an incubator and support organization for entrepreneurs and employees who want to start a cooperative company, one that is owned by workers and provides employment to local populations. They assist either businesses that are starting from scratch or those that are transitioning into the cooperative model after an owner retires, sells or restructures. For CO-OP Dayton’s leadership, those goals provide local support that will help improve communities and build a stronger future.
“Our focus is on the cooperative business model and worker and community ownership,” said Program Director Rachel Meketon. “We’re passionate about that mission, and it’s about helping root businesses in Dayton, where there’s been some flight of companies and losses of jobs in the past. We want businesses to be more accountable in their structures to their workers and the community. And it’s also about spreading the wealth and helping people build equity where they work and shop.”
The cooperative business model isn’t the most common, but it’s not new. CO-OP Dayton has taken inspiration from other groups, like Co-op Cincy and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center based out of Kent State University. Meketon said the group of founders saw the need for a similar organization in Dayton and hopes to fill a growing local need by building on existing partnerships and resources.
“We’ve been influenced by the national movement for this kind of work,” said Meketon. “Locally, our roots grew from a series of conversations that were facilitated by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State, which studied the west side of the city, a primarily African-American community, and found disparities in quality of life and outcomes. It really helped shape our goals and give us context. We want to create quality worker-ownership opportunities, but we also want to see thriving neighborhoods and community control of commercial development.”
Early in the life of CO-OP Dayton, the organization is already boosting startups who can grow within the community. Their first incubator program hit the ground running in December with 11 companies accepted for a seven-month business program, each with founders based in the area. By helping other businesses succeed, leaders believe CO-OP Dayton can help foster the growth of new businesses and organizations.
“We would love to really get this incubator going so we can support more cooperative and social-enterprise projects effectively,” said Meketon. “Some of the bigger goals we have are a community investment fund and a grocery market cooperative called the Gem City Market. A lot of interest from the community is about how they can invest and how these organizations can help them grow and achieve their goals. So our broad vision is a fund that supports all community businesses, particularly in Dayton’s working-class and low-income neighborhoods.”
CO-OP Dayton’s plans are garnering support from local government as well as business collaborators, and Meketon said she hopes to parlay the budding relationships with political leaders and entrepreneurial organizations into local jobs and resources for neighborhoods that can sometimes be forgotten.
“The Mayor is really supportive of our model, so it starts at the top in Dayton,” said Meketon. “We have great relationships with all the city commissioners. It’s been amazing. We have a call-in meeting every week with an entrepreneur or entrepreneurs in Dayton who are interested. We find partners for everything we do, and we have a lot of them. We’re trying to build quality jobs for people who work in Dayton and we believe those jobs can be driven by the people and their ideas.”