Supporting Local Business Viability and Transition to Worker Ownership in a Pandemic: Offering Business Owners “Exit to Community”

E2C: Community Ownership in a Pandemic Community Notes, Jun. 9, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis presents the greatest threat to community-based business in generations. But what if their employees and neighbors had the tools to get through this crisis in better shape, through an “exit to community”? This webinar presents strategies to help business transition to community and employee ownership, which could help ease the crisis upon us and aid in a just recovery. Get more info and background on this event here.

Vanessa Roanhorse <>

Jenny Geffrard <>

Astrid Scholz <>

Danny Spitzberg <>

Joe Rinehart <>

Mara Zepeda <>

Nia Evans <>

Nathan Schneider <

Marjorie Kelly <

We had over 130 RSVPs, including…

Presentation notes:

→ Help take notes, below!

Nathan, professor at CU Boulder/ MEDLab

  • An important session in the context of a pandemic.. and an uprising. In the face of racist police violence and economic control, it’s clear that community ownership is taking on a whole new meaning. And so is the idea for this series, the exit for a startup is eclipsed by the exit our whole economy might be looking towards. I think we face an opportunity for transformation here.

Mara Zepeda, cofounder of Zebras Unite

  • Zebras Unite believes that everyone has an equal right to imagine and create the future. We catalyze community, capital, and culture for people building businesses that are better for the world. We are international and intersectional, a founder-led movement for and by founders, investors, thought leaders, and practitioners of all different stripes. And over time, ownership has become a key part of our effort. The Zebra’s time has come!
  • A good place to learn more is the Zebra manifesto, Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break.


Nia K. Evans, director at the Boston Ujima Project & Jenny Geffrard, business alliance coach

  • A community-controlled local economy led by Boston’s working class community of color, pooling resources in a community capital fund with one member, one vote to invest in co-op business and purchasing, staffing services and workplace mediation, a community currency and timebank for trading skills on an hour-by-hour exchange, and more.
  • See video at and 
  • Over time, Ujima will run campaigns directing procuring and purchasing and other state and local dollars into Ujima. 
  • We are building an investment an ecosystem:
    • We have various pools for different stakeholder groups to exercise direct planning power and vote on where dollars are invested.
    • There is also a $5000+ note that also rethinks the approach to risk and reward, investing the traditional relationship between who puts in and who takes out
    • Our loan sizes are $25–250k
    • We’ve held dozens and dozens of neighborhood assemblies for Roxbury Dorchester and Mattapan along with the Occupy Homes now Boston Neighborhood Community Land Trust, and others
    • We’ve tried to make our investments as accessible as possible.
      • Our first investment was $100k at 4% over 8 years into CERO, a local composting co-op
  • To us, an exit to community is about preserving community wealth.
    • We need to develop this option further right now so it buffers any losses and grows all gains.
    • Ownership is more expansive- it’s about the enterprise, as well as the process of developing and making decisions.
    • And working with coaching to unite businesses across Boston


Marjorie Kelly, executive vice president at the Democracy Collaborative 

  • I’ve been working on shared ownership for decades – employee, co-op, and more.
  • We know private equity looting is going on (source: The Onion, and reality) 
  • But we know that most businesses can’t afford two months of lost income, which will allow the normal operations of the system to consolidate power and control of the economy.
  • What can we do to lift up community ownership? What’s the different path?
  • An emerging idea: “Local Economy Preservation Funds”
  • How it works, in steps:
    • Community ownership is supposed to fight ‘absentee ownership’ which tends to be elite, wealthy owners extracting for their private gain.
  • Options:
    • You might even have ESOPs where you buy up all the liability
  • Why do this?
  • How to capitalize these funds?
    • In April, the federal government created the municipal liquidity fund, which will purchase up to $500b from cities of 250k+ and issue bonds and place dollars in various entities like economic development agencies to be placed under their management
  • What next?
    • Currently looking for pilot sites. If there was one city county that shows proof of concept, a federal version might follow, and others would follow, too


Joe Rinehart, co-founder of the Main Street Phoenix Worker Cooperative

  • We are trying to flatten the economic downturn curve. Some of the businesses closing are the most vital.
  • See slides at
  • As opposed to a vulture capital or private equity firm buying up a slew of businesses… we’re pooling capital to do the same BUT to keep the profits in the community, and to open source the tools
  • So far:
    • We’ve formed a co-op association in Colorado, to help business owners who don’t have the cash to make it through this crisis… or they’ve weathered one downturn already
  • Case study:
    • We’re putting $250k to re-open a brewpub with new management and bring employees back in as worker-owners
    • That is the big difference for us: worker owners will get ownership in the larger association, too — including the back-office, too.
  • Expected impacts include:
    • This aided with more technical assistance
    • And with a larger group/association, individual business can make it through the squeeze of suppliers or landlords
  • How we’re executing on this roll-up strategy with our initial 10 restaurants:
    • After 1-2-3, we will further popularize our work by making more direct offers.
  • Our timeline: 
    • Already 2 months in
    • Currently seeking $500k and raising $2m in 2020 to acquire 10 businesses, build our back-office, and onboard worker-owners.
  • We see our roll-up strategy and model as a major contribution to the movement


Vanessa Roanhorse, CEO at Roanhorse Consulting, LLC

  • I’m Diné, a citizen of Navajo nation, and living in Albuquerque 
  • Working on an indigenous, women-led organization focus on healthy and community
  • Our approach helps us find where resources are most urgently needed
    • And in COVID-19 and past crisis moments, we know that the Navajo nation is hardest hit, first
    • We know our small business community getting wiped out fast, primarily because they’re working in the informal economy, with limited internet infrastructure
  • Over the past few years, we’ve been working on co-op capital
    • Some groups like Grameen Bank and Kiva have been doing investment through products with place-based strategies that help outsiders understand more of the nuance… but this kind of lending has not been effectively tried or utilized 
    • And we have developing world conditions in many of our past and current places. White patriarchal supremacy continues to ensure that is the case, as you see in Flint, Michigan, too.
  • Our effort started with a question:
    • What would it look like we partnered with non-lending institutions to start serving community members who may be native or undocumented and keen to engage?
    • Every organization we spoke to said, “Yes- we know who are the hard workers, who deserve the money, and who know what to do with it.”
    • We worked to convene The Matriarch Response Loan Fund
      • In border towns, we rarely have credit or collateral to put up for a loan
      • The structures put up generally make it hard to participate in the economy
    • So we created a product called Co-op Capital
      • Capped interest rate at 5%
      • Our PRIs and MRIs collateralized the capital pool at 70%, plus 20% from Nusenda Credit Union, and 10% from partner organizations — so far, 11 small startups focused mainly on food products
      • We’ve made 143 loans $600-10k avg. $5, hoping to reach $1m by the end of 2020.
      • Most women, undocumented, and other small business owners
  • When COVID-19 hit, we shifted
    • We asked if lenders could do at 0%, and we did
      • And we refinanced all past loans at 0%, too, with a 90-day reprieve, too
      • We also have a 50% forgiveness, provided borrowers can pay back 50%
    • We allowed partners to shift underwriting criteria to be COVID-19-specific, for more quick-moving funds that people could use for whatever they needed
  • Looking forward, we’re talking nationally with organizations to expand this nationally.



→ Use the format below so that everyone can ask and respond:

  • From RSVPs: What kinds of organizations might not work better with community ownership?
    • Vanessa: it was mainly the belief that it was possible, that not having credit – and having partners put in collateral – that held us back. But it’s been a massive paradigm shift in what a lending product is and who it’s for. That, and people of color know how to handle our money! Critics said “maybe we should give only small amounts, small checks” – but where I grew up, my family knew how to make a meal out of $10. You’ve got to trust people!
    • Joe R.: Very small businesses, with only 2 to 3 employees, especially if they aim to never be larger. That being said, those businesses would benefit greatly from community ownership of their underlying real estate to prevent excessive profit-taking via rents. 
    • Marjorie: I’m a pragmatist. We need a diversity of ownership designs, and right now it’s a monocrop- and we know diverse approaches work. But for example, capital-intensive industries like rail or air, I talked with one company that was 30% employee ownership and the CEO said it might be hard to go beyond that.
    • Nia: I’m a big fan of co-ops, but the promise doesn’t match the experience often for friends and colleagues in Boston- so an organization that has not put sufficient attention to power dynamics is not going to work out. That social dimension is real.
    • Nathan S: Capital-intensive, high-risk is the conventional answer to this. For instance, cooperative models might not work well for vaccine research—but public ownership, another kind of community ownership, seems ideal for that, as the Democracy Collaborative has argued. So to me the question is really: “What is the right kind of community ownership?”
    • Jayasri H: Eventually, community ownership will also include community ownership of equity. Then, the “company” structure might become less relevant? In other words, a worker-owner becomes an owner-investor.
  • From RSVPs: As elected officials work on COVID-19 recovery budgets, what is the main argument for why at-risk businesses should transition to community ownership?
    • Joe R.: 1) It’s one of a very few vehicles that can be used to save businesses that would otherwise close without handing future profits of the business to a small ownership group.  2) Efficient use of capital. Worker cooperative conversions accomplished with a long term equity investment from a city would save jobs at 0 long term cost. 3) It builds economic equity: most worker ownership transitions will be from traditionally privileged business owners to owners who are members of marginalized communities.  4) It builds a resilient local economy: cooperative businesses are more likely to survive and economic downturn, and less likely to lay off employees. 
    • The community is a pool of resilience and capital and support. Also, one of the major challenges businesses are facing is activating consumer demand. If those potential consumers also become co-owners, they might feel more comfortable stepping up as consumers.
  • From RSVPs: What is a minimum viable transition? In other words, what do you consider just enough to make meaningful and sustainable progress?
    • From Valeriya Olegovna Epshteyn: What do folks make of the new access private equity now has to the trillions of US assets wrapped up in retirement accounts? Can folks with retirement savings who seek to invest in local equitable community development take advantage of that somehow? How else might retirement assets be leveraged in an exit to community? 
  • Shon, Any relation/collaboration between Ujima Project and related efforts in other locations (like Cooperation Jackson)? What would be key differences in approach? Any steps towards federating these efforts?
  • Nia, what kind of requests for capital has the Ujima Fund received? I’m interested in the range (lowest, highest, and median. 
  • Where
  • Marjorie: Rashid Owoyele asking, What might be the possible relationships between Local Economy Preservation Funds and Community Land Trusts?
    • Interesting question. The Fed funds can be used for local purposes that are revenue-generating. It might be worth looking to see if funds could be used for CLTs.
  • Marjorie: Deborah Frieze asking: What kind of entity would qualify as a pilot site? Does it need to be an EDC/CDC/NDC or quasi-gov’t fund? Could it be a community fund (such as Boston Impact Initiative or Boston Ujima Project)?
  • I think it remains to be seen.  Worth exploring. Let’s talk.
  • To all: Rashid Owoyele asking; Have any of you been growing on the Preston Cooperative Development Model? If not, what would be the possibility of communities to stipulate with Anchor Industries (universities, sports arenas, etc) use as often as possible locally owned cooperative businesses and service providers?
    • The Local Economy Preservation Fund sounds like the Scientific Cultural Facilities District here in metro Denver.  They collect a percentage of the tax collections. How are they different?
    • Marjorie: Is there an option for capitalization that would work for smaller cities and rural areas? Many communities we partner with are smaller than 250,000 people.
    • Small cities need to partner together, or work at the county level. therhwthe population thresholds are non-negotiable for the Fed I believe. 
    • Nia, Where can I find out more about the progress of Occupy Homes now Boston Neighborhood Community Land Trust?
    • Joe, about the “Pinery” if the brew pub market is saturated, how do you do a projection that gives you the confidence to purchase?
      • Joe: The economics of brewpubs are quite good and they don’t close due to too low sales necessarily. The main challenges most brewpubs face is 1) Bad capital stack 2) Too much rent 3) Poor operators who are not from the restaurant industry. If we can solve for all three of those it would make a good investment. We feel good about solving 1 and 3 in almost all cases. 2 will be the big question. 
    • Joe, given that some communities might not be able to secure big investments from their region, is it possible to make impact investment opportunities available to residents in smaller amounts?  Imagine a LendingClub or FundRise for locals to contribute $100.
      • Joe: We’d love to be able to investment from non-accredited investors and will build that capability going forward. In terms of the right now crisis we’re trying to access capital as quickly as possible in order to get help to workers and restaurants ASAP. We do think the $100 investment will be incredibly powerful going forward, especially if we can link those investments to preserving specific restaurants. Imagine if we can say “for the price of a dinner out for 4 at X restaurant you can make this restaurant stays put”. 
    • Joe: How do we sign up to receive the open-source tools and information from Main Street Phoenix?
      • Joe: Email us if you want to partner Or signup for a newsletter at, and we will email you when tools start to come out. What is happening now in this rush though is that we are making/sharing tools we already have with folks who have asked. If we chat then you can influence what tools get made/get stuff first.  

    Final thoughts?

    What’s next

    • Please take this post-session survey to inform what happens next!
      • Note the question about a summer learning for a cohort of groups to explore exit to community, together


    → Please share resources related to this session:

    Chat transcript

    From Kevon Paynter to All panelists and other attendees: (9:09 AM)

My man, Nathan! Thank You.

    From Danny Spitzberg to All panelists and other attendees: (9:13 AM)

    From Vikram B Rojo to All panelists and other attendees: (9:21 AM)

thumbs up

    From Andy Jacobs to All panelists and other attendees: (9:21 AM)

Sounded great, thanks

    From Danny Spitzberg to All panelists and other attendees: (9:21 AM)

If you’re just joining, join us in the notes doc at

    From akshat to All panelists and other attendees: (9:22 AM)

Great, thumps up

    From Jenny Geffrard to All panelists and other attendees: (9:22 AM)

Yes this is on our website ☺️

    From Rashid Owoyele to All panelists and other attendees: (9:22 AM)

Oh nno
Is the screen share garbage everywhere ???

    From Paul to All panelists and other attendees: (9:23 AM)

Yes, the screen share is blurry

    From Amanda to All panelists and other attendees: (9:23 AM)

Maybe it would help to turn the speaker video off while the screen is being shared?

    From Kevon Paynter to All panelists and other attendees: (9:23 AM)

its blurry for sure, but thankfully the audio is  clear

    From Rashid Owoyele to All panelists and other attendees: (9:24 AM)

Try the screen share again?

    From markgrimes to All panelists and other attendees: (9:27 AM)

sorry about that

    From to All panelists and other attendees: (9:33 AM)

Following Boston Ujima for years and a big fan. You mention membership is open, is that to everyone or just Boston? I know at one point some  aspect was understandably limited to Boston residents.

    From Nia Evans to All panelists and other attendees: (9:33 AM)

Membership is open to everyone. We have two tiers: Voting for Boston residents and Solidarity for everyone else.

    From to All panelists and other attendees: (9:34 AM)

Perfect. Thanks!

    From Nia Evans to All panelists and other attendees: (9:34 AM)

Only Voting Members vote on investments and other organizational decisions.
Presentation link:

    From Cassandra to All panelists and other attendees: (9:36 AM)

@nathan, can you repost the link to the presentation?  I just switched devices.  Thank you.  Amazing!!

    From Nathan Schneider to All panelists and other attendees: (9:39 AM)

Here is the shared notes doc, everyone:

    From Rashid Owoyele to All panelists and other attendees: (9:39 AM)

    From Nathan Schneider to All panelists and other attendees: (9:39 AM)

Here are Ujima’s slides:

    From Nathan Schneider to All panelists and other attendees: (9:41 AM)

Here’s the Next City article:

    From Nia Evans to All panelists and other attendees: (9:47 AM)


    From Jenny Geffrard to All panelists and other attendees: (9:47 AM)

That was great!

    From Nurul to All panelists and other attendees: (9:47 AM)

Amazing talks both!

    From Danny Spitzberg to All panelists and other attendees: (9:53 AM)

To ask questions and follow notes, see this doc

    From Jeff Piestrak to All panelists and other attendees: (9:54 AM)

Any plans to expand MSPI efforts to include entire farm to plate/pub value chain?

    From Danny Spitzberg to All panelists and other attendees: (9:54 AM)

@Marjorie all notes are being captured here

    From Nathan Schneider to All panelists and other attendees: (10:03 AM)

Notes here again:

    From Joe Rinehart to All panelists and other attendees: (10:03 AM)
    Those are the slides
@Jeff, MSPWC is definitely open to working in the entire restaurant value chain.

    From Joe Rinehart to All panelists and other attendees: (10:06 AM)

We just need to be sure we can provide value to the business and worker owners via our back-office. Getting too industry unfocused makes that hard.

    From Jayasri (Joyce) Hart, Los Angeles to All panelists and other attendees: (10:11 AM)

Thanks, Joe, for answering my Pinery question. Couldn’t add that in the right place after your comment.

    From Jeff Piestrak to All panelists and other attendees: (10:13 AM)

Thanks Joe, my thought is that shared ownership/governance across food systems value chains/foodsheds/grainsheds may end up being more adaptive/resilient. Allowing resources (including labor, transport and processing facilities) to be reconfigured as needed to ensure regional food security and equity.

    From Joe Rinehart to All panelists and other attendees: (10:13 AM)

@Jeff, totally. Also, if you haven’t checked out the LINC Foods people in Spokane Wa. you might like that project.

    From Nathan Schneider to All panelists and other attendees: (10:18 AM)

Here’s the notes for Q&A and more!

    From Rashid Owoyele to All panelists and other attendees: (10:21 AM)

I was part of a cooperative tech company building blockchain. But they founded as a connsumer coop without any consumer goods… that was one example where the coop model was not appropriate for the development of the product and the management of the tech-creation phase of the global ecosystem vision of the org