Prototype

A Social Enterprise Accelerator Launches a Cryptocurrency for its Community

Anne Field | June 12, 2018

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You’ve heard of Bitcoin. But a growing number of social enterprises are also adopting blockchain-based cryptocurrencies to build safe, transparent networks and communities. One recent example is COMMON, a social entrepreneurship accelerator and collaborative community based in Boulder, Colorado.

COMMON recently introduced a cryptocurrency called COMMON Cents, to be used by members of its community. The aim is to reward and encourage collaboration among members, who are located in 21 countries—and potentially offer them a way to share in each other’s equity.

“We think it’s going to help free up time and space for members to support each other and collaborate more,” says CEO Mark Eckhardt (pictured above, left).

COMMON was initially launched in 2011 by four advertising veterans as an accelerator for social enterprises and “a voice for a new kind of capitalism,” says co-founder Rob Schuham (on right). That included help with strategy and pitch events. Then two or so years ago, under the leadership of Eckhardt, the enterprise expanded to become an accessible, affordable online community—the better to reach social entrepreneurs located anywhere.

It uses tools such as collaboration site Slack and project management platform Trello. In addition, COMMON also has another side which functions as an advertising agency and strategic consultancy for clients.
COMMON members, who can range from established companies to idea-stage enterprises, can avail themselves to virtual services, like finance and accounting advice, and interact with each other.

They also can take part in “Maniacal Business Attacks,” a sort of virtual peer brainstorming session, where they can tap the expertise of the network to help with anything from prototype generation to a new-product launch. (That kind of work also is done through the consultancy side). To join COMMON, you have to apply and go through a vetting process; and there’s a $99 monthly fee.

As for COMMON Cents, the basic concept is to provide what Eckhardt describes as a “universal basic income” to members. That is, it’s a centralized currency for the COMMON community, not an investable asset class, aimed at encouraging the 200 or so community members to continue participating as they grow. “We found, in working with our members, there often comes a time when they incur costs in time, opportunity, even well-being, and collaboration stops,” says Eckhardt.

With that in mind, COMMON hopes to keep members engaged by providing monthly distribution of COMON Cents to those who meet at least such minimum criteria as participating on a regular basis; the amount hasn’t been determined. They also can send anonymous “gifts” to fellow members as a way of thanking them for, say, providing a particularly helpful suggestion.

In addition, COMMON plans to roll out a structure for shared equity—perhaps a warrant or revenue share agreement—that will allow for members to participate in an equity pool in each others’ businesses. In the event that a company is sold, the proceeds will come back into the equity pool and be distributed to members.

“We’re providing an incentive to people to support each other, knowing they’re helping other businesses and themselves at the same time,” says Schuham.

Ultimately, members can cash in their COMMON Cents or continue to accumulate them over time.

The goal is to start distributions over the next several weeks. Since COMMON Cents, and cryptocurrency in general, aren’t familiar concepts to a lot of people, the process also will include continuing an education effort already underway. “Some of our members are very interested, while others are pretty confused, says Eckhardt.

Anne Field is a New York-based journalist who writes about social enterprise and impact investing. A version of this article originally appeared on her Not Only For Profit blog on Forbes.com.

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