Disrupting the Disruptors

Co-operative Business Models for Sustainable Platform Enterprises

Join us in Toronto on September 8-9-10, 2017 to find out how co-operative business models can be used to build a better digital economy.

What can digital entrepreneurs, freelancers, students, policy-makers, community leaders and activists expect at Disrupting the Disrupters? Inspiration! Learning! Collaboration!

Quite simply, we need better, more sustainable business models. The promise of the sharing economy, powered by peer-to peer connections on digital platforms, has not delivered. The results of economic disruption by a few monopolies are now clear: platform-driven precarious employment, accelerating disparities, dissolution of labour standards, undermining of regulatory safeguards, and the monetization of private data.

The co-operative enterprise model – joint ownership by stakeholders (employees, and/or customers, and/or communities) – can address two fundamental problems.

• Co-op enterprises can disrupt and eventually stop the uberisation of work and living standards in the gig economy.

• Co-ops can crack the start-up monoculture – one that forces founders to “pivot” good ideas and great on-line communities into enterprises that monetize user data for the benefit of outside investors.

The co-op ‘hack-and-own’ platform revolution is already emerging. These types of co-op start-ups now exist in many countries around the world, including Canada.

The potential is there…if we act quickly to reinforce and harness these ideas and promote co-operative values and principles, we can enjoy more equitable, social, and sustainable platform communities and business.


In addition to inspiration, Disrupting the Disrupters will be a learning experience.

Entrepreneurs working on digital platform projects have more choices on how to structure their businesses than are typically discussed with investors, advisors and business incubators. Various combinations of stakeholders – employees, customers, and communities – can form powerful, mutually supportive co operative partnerships that can be sustainable and reward founders.

As journalist and platform co-op advocate Nathan Schneider argues, “There’s a whole set of companies that inhabit the territory between boom and bust—companies that have good cash flow and a devoted user base, but that aren’t satisfying the cravings of Wall Street. These are the kinds of companies that might lead the way for a different kind of Internet; one that aligns ownership with the interests of its customers, and puts the ownership of companies in the hands of the workers and users who depend on them.”

Even though co-operative ownership structures often provide a better and more sustainable approach for online enterprises, these alternatives are still not well known. Disrupting the Disrupters is an opportunity to learn about how platform co-operatives that have already emerged compete with shareholder-owned digital businesses everywhere. Let’s learn from their leadership!


So, let’s build the new co-op platform ecosystem together!

As platform monopolies such as Uber and Airbnb run into regulatory, labour, and public relations opposition, the opportunity exists for member and stakeholder owned platforms to offer an alternative.

The transformative and disruptive power of the platform economy is itself creating a renaissance of old school co-operative values and principles. To apply those proven values in the digital world, we need to answer a few key questions:

• How can the principles of economic democracy – which drove the 20th-century co-operative movement – be brought into and accelerated in today’s emerging digital economy?

• How can investors in the digital co-op economy make a fair return while these types of platforms achieve sustainability?

There’s no limit to the transformative power of co-operative platform ideas, whether at a local or a global “network effect” scale. If we collaborate, locally, nationally, and internationally, we can build a sustainable digital economy with open source values and economic democracy.

Join us September 9-10, 2017 in Toronto, as we bring together leading voices – and people like you – to explore these questions and investigate new opportunities and visions for Canadian tech startups.

Let’s harness the power of Inspiration, Leaning and Collaboration to create a more people-centred digital economy!


Launched in 2014, platform cooperativism is gaining momentum.

The first conference, 2014’s Platform Cooperativism: The Internet, Ownership, Democracy was organized by Trebor Scholz (associate professor at The New School, New York City) and Nathan Schneider (writer and a scholar-in-residence of media studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder). Scholz coined the term Platform Cooperativism to describe a wide variety of initiatives related to co-operative and democratic ownership in the digital world.

Following the inaugural event in 2015, Scholz and Nathan Schneider, co-edited a series of thoughtful essays on the topic of Platform Cooperativism under the title, Ours to Hack and Own: The Rise of the Digital Co-operative, a New Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet”. The activists who contributed to Ours to Hack and to Own argue for a new kind of online economy: platform cooperativism, which combines the rich heritage of cooperatives with the promise of 21st-century technologies, free from monopoly, exploitation, and data surveillance.

The strategy to accomplish this includes adopting the technologies used by monopolies such as Uber or Airbnb, but using that technology to create new apps, networks, and ecosystems, as well as adapting democratic ownership structures to digital businesses.

The 3 defined use cases for the co-operative model in the digital economy are the following:
1) Worker and producer-owned online businesses,
2) Union-based co-operative enterprises,
3) And city/user owned multi-stakeholder platform co-operatives.

Key speakers will include experts and leaders in the fields of:

• Progressive economics,
• Critics of the sharing economy,
• Co-op development specialists,
• Tech entrepreneurs and
• Established co-operative platform entrepreneurs

Participants will be invited to participate from the following sectors:

– Industry / Tech / VC / Computer Labs
– Co-operative Developers
– Municipalities and Government Policy Makers
– Academics and researchers
– Mainstream and sector Media
– Labour and union organizations

Conference details

Day 1: Academic Day: Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab (DCSIL)
Researchers and Academics from across Canada and internationally will meet for an unconference style day at the University of Toronto. (Maximum 70)
• Presentations of research and proposed research
• Open dialogue on ways forward
• Formulation of a “state of the movement” update

Day 2: Conference: Epic Hall, Bram and Bluma Appel Salon, Toronto Reference Library
Hi level keynotes to inspire and educate attendees about the co-operative opportunities in a digital world. The logic, reasoning and examples that can illustrate the path to a new movement in the digital economy. (Maximum 450)
• Keynotes
• Breakout Sessions (2 sessions, legal structures and investment strategies)
• Panel discussions
• Networking opportunities

Day 3: Workshop: Beeton Hall, Toronto Reference Library
In depth analysis of the required investment models, governance innovation, legal frameworks, and partnerships that can allow platform co-operatives and create a Canadian and international ecosystem. (Maximum 180)
• Presentations in person and via skype
• Policy discussions / unconference
• Policy recommendations

Event Web site/registration: http://platformcoop.ca

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