Business and Employment Co-operatives

Business and Employment Co-operatives (BECs) offer entrepreneurs the chance to develop their business and move towards self-employment in a sheltered and supported environment.

Dating from 1996 in France, BECs offer a potential entrepreneur the chance to create their business within the sheltered environment of a larger social enterprise. They reduce the financial risk facing people starting a new business, and provide a half-way house between employment and self-employment. Many BECs target services to unemployed people or disadvantaged groups, or specialise in certain sectors that present specific barriers to start-ups.

The model employed in France involves entrepreneurs keeping their unemployed status until they have completed a test trading period and their business is ready for launch. In this phase any revenues to the business can be spent on projects for the business – for example marketing. In the second phase the entrepreneur becomes a salaried employee of the BEC, which, in return, receives 10% of sales revenues. In this phase the ‘salaried entrepreneur’ benefits from training, networks and administrative support, including legal services, book-keeping and insurance. Once established, the entrepreneur can either spin out or become a full voting member of the BEC and continue to pay a 10% administration charge.

There are now 70 BECs in France operating in over 100 locations, and the model is also being used in Belgium and Sweden. The largest BEC is Paris-based Coopaname, which was set up in 2004 and looks after 300 entrepreneurs with a collective turnover of  €1.6 million. Outcome statistics detail the positive influence Coopaname has had on individuals’ employment statuses and incomes. Finally, although the initiative is open to everyone, 95% of Coopaname’s users were previously unemployed or benefiting from basic income support.