Uptima Business Bootcamp is a business accelerator with an unusual business structure: It’s a cooperative. Entrepreneurs who go through the training become members of the co-op and have a say in how the training program is run. They will also share in each other’s profits: Every business in the program gives Uptima an equity stake and returns on that equity will be distributed to the members of the cooperative. “We’re creating a community,” says co-founder Rani Croager (pictured). “Everyone is investing in each other.”
Uptima stands apart in other ways as well. “We’re not just tech,” says Croager. “We serve emerging and embedded industries.” She wants Uptima to serve “these other areas of the economy that should be thriving.” Uptima’s first class, which begins in September 2014, includes emerging businesses in fields as diverse as education, health and wellness, consumer goods, apparel, technology, arts/media, and distribution of goods. She sees the mix of different industries as an advantage that will lead to businesses to “form unlikely alliances” and give entrepreneurs a chance to build skills they might not gain in a more homogeneous group. “You should be able to explain your business in such a way that anyone outside your industry can understand it,” she says.
When Croager graduated from college, she went to work as an investment banker to pay down her student debt, setting aside her aspirations to work for social and economic justice. The Uptima Business Bootcamp allows her to bring her passion and her financial expertise together. “Our program is specifically designed to bring in the concepts of whole systems thinking and how to create a thriving business that serves the community,” she says. “Everything that we talk about in terms of how you launch, go to market, fund, and scale your business,” she adds, is done “in such a way that you have positive social and environmental impacts.”
The bootcamp is broken down into three modules of three months each: Launching Your Business, Going to Market and Funding Your Business, and Scaling and Thriving. “We’ve made this modular to make it more accessible,” says Croager, noting that some early stage entrepreneurs may want to do more product development after the first module before they move on to the funding and marketing stage. The accelerator will start a new cohort every quarter, so each module will be offered three times a year.
Croager is also developing a course to benefit the smallest businesses. “We turned away freelancers and solo entrepreneurs [who applied for the training] because that doesn’t really lend itself to the equity model,” she says. She hopes to launch a cooperative accelerator for these businesses by early next year.