Founding Limeleaf: Part 3, Finding Support in the Cooperative Community

When we started Limeleaf, we wanted to do things differently. We wanted to create a democratically managed business where every worker had a voice and a stake in the company's success. In short, we wanted to start a worker cooperative (even though we don’t call ourselves that, for reasons we covered in Part 1).

As exciting as the idea was, it was also pretty intimidating. We had a lot of experience running companies, but very little experience starting one, much less a co-op. We weren't sure where to even start.

Fortunately, we soon discovered that there was a strong and vibrant community of cooperatives and co-op advisors ready to help us get off the ground. By tapping into this network of support, we've been able to navigate the ins and outs of operating as a worker co-op.

Cooperatives Helping Cooperatives

Cooperatives are, by their very nature, well...cooperative. In fact, "Cooperation among Cooperatives" is one of the seven Cooperative Principles that define and guide cooperative businesses worldwide, including ours.

This principle has rung true for us at every step. Early on, we joined the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC), a national grassroots membership organization. As members, we've received expert advice on everything from drafting our Operating Agreement to setting up our bookkeeping. The USFWC even helped us secure grant funding to cover some of these critical startup costs.

Some other organizations are dedicated to helping cooperatives, and whose resources helped us:

  • The Democracy at Work Institute provides education, training, and technical assistance to worker co-ops in the U.S.
  • describes itself as "a new kind of member-driven organisation that unites worker co-ops, individual workers and supporters."
  • CooperationWorks! is a network of cooperative development centers that offer support services and resources.
  • Internationally, the International Co-operative Alliance connects co-ops across borders and sectors.
  • is on a mission "to cultivate the next generation of cooperative businesses at scale." They train cooperative entrepreneurs in business skills and tools and connect them with sources of capital.

Our advice to other aspiring new co-ops: get a lawyer as soon as possible. Worker co-ops have unique legal needs, so it's important to work with an attorney who understands the cooperative model.

We were lucky to get assistance from an attorney at the Edward P. Swyer Justice Center at Albany Law School. She had extensive experience working with co-ops and helped us choose our business entity (i.e., member-managed LLC), advised us on tax law, reviewed and suggested improvements to our operating agreement, and looked over our first client contract.

Alongside legal counsel, all new co-ops should bring a bookkeeper and CPA onto their team ASAP. Proper financial management is critical for any business, but especially for co-ops, where money matters are handled transparently and democratically, and concepts such as patronage dividends can be hard to get your head around (at least they were for us). The good folks at connected us with a fantastic accountant who specializes in working with cooperatives.

Peer Mentorship

Some of the most valuable support we've received has come from our fellow worker cooperatives in the tech space. For example, we have regular calls with our friends at to share learnings, troubleshoot challenges, and celebrate wins together.

The co-op world is filled with incredible generosity of spirit, with established cooperatives eager to help new ones find their footing. We're exploring partnerships with cooperative tech communities like Patio to expand our network and opportunities.

In our own sector (which is growing, see a list of tech co-ops here), we've seen co-ops teaming up on projects, sharing resources, and even creating new cooperative ventures together. CoTech, a network of tech co-ops in the UK, and Colab Coorperative, based in Ithaca, NY, are great examples of this kind of collaboration in action.

Knowledge Sharing

Finally, cooperatives support each other by freely sharing knowledge and best practices. There are countless conferences, webinars, publications, and online forums where co-ops can learn from each other's successes and challenges.

You're Not Alone

At its heart, the cooperative movement is about people coming together to meet their shared needs and build a more equitable world. Starting your own worker cooperative can feel like a leap into the unknown, but there's a whole community of brilliant and wonderful people out there ready to hold your hand.

We Want to Hear From You!

We hope these posts are useful to anyone who is setting up a (very) small tech worker cooperative. If you want help starting a cooperative business or just want to talk co-ops in general, drop us a line or get in touch through any of the social channels in the page footer.