With annual sales of 22 million euro and 450 associates, Initiative et Cité located in Lille offers an experience unique in all of France. The business models promoted by this group and used by two of its members, Grands ensemble and SMartFr, prove that an alliance of individuals who share the values inherent to a social and community approach to business can lead to growth.
With Nicolas Wallet at the helm, the two national cooperatives, Grands ensemble and SMartFr * count 5 500 associates among their ranks and generated 8 million euro in sales in 2013.
Their goal is to help individuals launch a commercial enterprise while being employed by the cooperative to which they belong. Functioning from within the co-op, the entrepreneur has the advantage of being classified as a long-term employee with benefits, personnel support and office space. Once the contract is signed, launching a business is simplified for the individual who is then able to invoice for services performed using the cooperative’s business registration number.
Shared resources and shared governance
“Our model uses economies of scale. The goal is to share resources, personnel and processes to encourage our members’ growth,” explains Nicolas Wallet.
The members share a 750-square-meter area equipped with offices, meeting rooms, a cafeteria, and a co-working space. Each member gives the cooperative between 8.5 and 10% when they reach a certain level of sales. This contribution funds accounting and financial assistance, shared resources such as office space, business intelligence, legal assistance, and more. Entrepreneurs are paid like employees and supported from a legal and business standpoint. Often solopreneurs without an existing client portfolio, this model provides them with a safety net.
This participative management style goes hand-in-hand with shared governance. Members can become active in running the cooperatives themselves and express their opinions on strategy and development. This approach directly applies the principle of “one share, one vote.”
Shared decision making and shared risk
As Nicolas Wallet says, “We can only promise entrepreneurs security if we are able to share the risks.” This leads to financial cooperation.
The cooperative can invest in projects using its own funds. Recently, Nicolas Wallet and his colleagues proposed an investment of 35,000 euro to purchase garden equipment for one of the designers. Managing the risk collectively allows the cooperative to offer an alternative to traditional bank loans.
Initiatives et Cité also offers its members expertise in raising capital. 30 such projects have been carried out during the 5 last ye ars. This offering and the power of the member companies together provide leverage when approaching lenders. For example, this helps members raise startup funds through organizations like FIDESS (Fonds d’Investissement pour le Développement de l’Entreprenariat Social et Solidaire or Investment for Social and Community Development). Initiatives et Cité also organizes introductions to banks, microcredit agencies, and local lending entities.
Soon, a new fund called the Responsible Initiative Fund will allow for investment directly from individuals and businesses. Going forward, socially innovative projects will come to fruition thanks to this type of support as well as crowdfunding platforms.
Business opportunities resulting from cooperation
Audrey Lecompte directs COM’ O², a communications agency that has belonged to Grands ensemble since May 2013. “I wanted to be independent, but I didn’t want to be alone, out in the wild by myself, and didn’t want to face complex administrative requirements without support,” she states. The cooperative’s professional environment encourages networking and inspires trust—a prerequisite for successful cooperation. As Audrey found, this synergy can also lead to collaboration. In association with her colleagues at Resonance, she was able to respond to a large RFP and now counts members of the group among her first clients!
*SMartFr focuses on cultural activities. Their head office is located in Lille. They have 5.5 million euro in yearly sales and have 10 offices throughout France.
Grands ensemble groups together 70 different trades. Since it was launched in Lille in 2006, Grands ensemble has opened four additional offices throughout France.