The founders of Common, a Boulder-based a social enterprise startup accelerator, have learned an important lesson since launching in 2011: Many purpose-driven companies are forced to shift from their missions or pull away from collaborative efforts when money gets tight.
They thought to themselves: What if social entrepreneurs knew they could count on a certain amount of money coming in each month? Wouldn‘t that free them up to devote more time and resources to making the world a better place?
It‘s questions like these that led Common to launch an experimental pilot program that would provide accelerator members with a monthly stipend just for being members. The concept of the Common Cents program is similar to that of universal basic income (UBI), where entities — often governments or charitable organizations — provide people with enough money to meet essential needs, such as food and shelter.
Common, formed in the midst of the Great Recession by a group of advertising and branding industry veterans with the lofty goal of reshaping capitalism, has more than 200 members — from solar lamp manufacturers to gin distillers — around the globe. Members pay a subscription fee for access to a network of marketing and branding experts who help grow the companies.
The UBI provided by the Common Cents program will come in the form of non-speculative cryptocurrency token.
“Common was founded on a big vision. With the emergence of blockchain and digital currencies, we‘re able to take a huge step towards realizing an idea that was ahead of its time,” cofounder Alex Bogusky said in a statement about the launch of Common Cents.
The program uses blockchain to pay the monthly stipends to members from a “liquidity pool” where funds are held. Common has put up $5,000 to seed the pool and is leading a crowdfunding effort to grow it.
“We understand that starting with a small liquidity pool, we‘re not going to be able to help someone live day to day in Boulder or in Stockholm, Sweden,” cofounder Rob Schuham said. “But what this does is give people a sense for the concept and a feeling of starting to build some savings.”
“As the experiment proves to be successful — it might not, but we‘re bullish here — more liquidity will come into the pool because people will be attracted to the community,” he said.
In addition to providing members with Common‘s take on universal basic income, Common Sense has gifting features designed to foster community spirit and encourage collaboration among member companies.
“We‘ve pivoted to a platform that we felt could help us boost our mission significantly, while also providing a much-needed community,” Schuham said. “Part of our vision of new capitalism is moving from the current system, which drives competition really hard to one that creates collaboration where social entrepreneurs can help each other.”
Common CEO Mark Eckhardt echoed this cooperative philosophy. He said, “Success is really a matter of the degree to which people can work together.”
In the future, the Common Cents program could include an equity pooling program.
“We want to encourage collaboration. We want people to feel that within this collaborative community all boats are rising together,” Schuham said. “We can do that by encouraging people to put some of their company‘s equity into the pool. If equity is shared, then people want the other members of the community to succeed.”
The experimental Common Sense program announcement came this week during Common‘s annual summit, dubbed the UNSUMMIT.
Eckhardt said the reaction from accelerator members present at the summit was favorable.
“There‘s a lot of excitement around it,” he said. “This is all very new for folks, so we are taking it one step at a time. But, overall, I think everyone sees the tremendous possibility of taking what we‘ve built to the next level.”