Ideas for co-ops

A start-up co-op needs two things: an idea, and people who are committed to the idea. Sometimes, the people already know each other, and they come up with the idea together. Other times, the people don’t know each other, and come up with the idea independently.

This page is for people in the second group: people with an idea who are looking to connect with others who have ideas that are similar or compatible. In some cases, these ideas don’t have anyone following up on them at all — yet!

Please read through this list and see if one of them sounds especially inviting. If it does, write to to be connected with others already working on it (assuming there are any — you might be the first!). If none of them does, write in with your own idea! We’ll add it to this page.


Having a bar was among the first entries on this page, and it’s one of the oldest ideas the worker co-op community has. However, it’s not the only way to get in on the brewing supply chain — we can also start at the other end, by growing hops.

Sustainable energy storage

Renewable energy sources are more and more popular these days, as efficiency improves and prices fall. However, there’s still a lot of room for improvement in the overall sustainability of these forms of energy. A conspicuous example is the highly problematic ways that materials such as cobalt and lithium are mined. We need to find ways to store energy sustainably, using materials that are less exotic and more local — and where there’s a need, there’s an opportunity.

Venture Cooperativism (software)

There is a small group that has been around for a while now that wants to re-work the way software is written and funded. Typically, software start-ups scrape by for a while until they get venture capital, then they grow quickly and hope to get bought up by a software giant. Very few of them are, and the rest fade away. Our group wants to change that model.

3D printing

Additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, has been around for years, and costs are falling even as quality is rising. Perhaps even more compelling is the fact that the raw materials can include a large number of things that would end up in the landfill or get recycled — maybe — such as plastic (see Precious Plastic, below), paper, sawdust, glass, ash, scrap metal, and tires. 3D printers can also use hemp as a raw material. A co-op could focus on creating the filaments, providing on-demand printing, or both.


Fairbnb is a transparent, democratic, and cooperative alternative to Airbnb.

Commercial Real Estate Co-op

A co-op that deals in commercial real estate sounds like an ambitious idea — and indeed, it is — but there are multiple success stories from around the US and Canada, so it can be done.

Precious Plastic

This is a business-in-a-box, literally. Its purpose is to divert plastic from the wastestream, grind it up, melt it down, and make it into something useful. What would that be? The possibilities are almost endless. How about construction materials? Furniture? Reusable packaging? 3D printing filament (see above)?

Unbreakable glass

Basically, this would amount to a carbon copy of the Cristalux cooperative in Buenos Aires. They make jars, bottles, and drinkware that is highly durable and still economical. Recycling glass is ridiculous compared to reusing it, so let’s make glass that insists on being reused. Tempered glass can be 3D printed (see above).


Who doesn’t need help with their marketing? If you can offer it, talk with us. We know of a group organizing on the national level, and you could become Madison’s first member.


If you haven’t heard of this, it’s a remarkable system that combines indoor vegetable farming with fish farming. It’s up and running in Milwaukee, and we could have our own here in Madison.


There are a number of worker-owned and operated restaurants around the country and around the world, and there’s no reason Madison shouldn’t have one. Or several! Converting an existing business would be considerably easier than starting a new one. If there’s a restaurant or bar owner preparing to sell their business, we want to know about it! Update: we have a person actively interested in this. Please write to be connected.

Child care

Childcare is a critical need, and worker-ownership provides a better work environment for workers and better care for children. Check out an article from Nonprofit Quarterly about this need.