How this free service supports Stockholm’s social entrepreneurs
Cooperation is a cornerstone of Swedish values and at the heart of everything from business culture to maintaining an apartment block. But working together is not always plain sailing, and things can quickly go awry without guidelines in place.
It’s here Coompanion steps in. The business consultancy service provides free support to would-be companies, predominantly economic associations (a type of company run by at least three or more people or businesses). What sets Coompanion apart from other business consultants is the companies it helps must have an element of social entrepreneurship.
“We meet a lot of people who want to start a company together. They could be in any industry, from tech to hospitality. But for us to work with them, there needs to be an economic, ecological, and social sustainability perspective and business idea. They have to be driven by making a difference for society or the environment,” explains Maria Aziz, business manager at Coompanion Stockholm.
One such example is catering company Yalla Rinkeby, a work-integrating social enterprise that helps foreign-born women to enter the Swedish labour market. Another is Planboo, a nature-based carbon removal company using bamboo to absorb CO2 and release oxygen into the environment. What unites these very different ventures is their commitment to positive change.
“More people are reaching out to us and are more aware of the pressing issues the world is facing,” says Maria. “They understand that if they don’t work with the sustainability goals or have an impact-first way of thinking, their company won’t last for a long time. Especially among young people, you see they’re more interested in this.”
Helping social entrepreneurs to be heard
Partially made possible by funding from the Swedish government through Tillväxtverket, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, Coompanion’s extensive services range from determining whether a business idea has legs to ensuring all members feel happy and heard. This could entail providing advice for running a flat organisation or something more tangible like writing statutes to prevent future conflict.
Crucially, Coompanion ensures social entrepreneurs are taken as seriously as traditional entrepreneurs. According to Maria, there’s a tendency for these budding business owners to fall through the cracks due to a myth that “they don’t make profit or they’re not for real.” They may, for instance, go unnoticed by investors or not get the chance to take part in an accelerator program.
“We see that they miss out on available resources within the ecosystem. I think they feel like they’re listened to when they come to Coompanion, and they get the extra support they need.”
Guiding and supporting cooperatives is essential for the betterment of the wider world, believes Maria. When people come together and work towards a common goal, that’s when real change takes place. The cooperative model is, she says, “one of the solutions to today’s problems from the climate to immigration issues.” Not to mention, businesses built on the foundations of cooperation tend to withstand greater hardships.
“We can create a stronger society when people do things together. And we have seen that cooperatives tend to last longer because everyone pitches in when there is a crisis. People feel happier when they are doing something together and know their voice is equal.”
Being based in Stockholm - where Coompanion has one of its 25 country-wide locations - comes with its unique perks, says Maria. Sweden’s capital is renowned for its innovative atmosphere and has, in recent years, become a breeding ground for impact companies. There are many established and aspiring entrepreneurs in the city, around 500 groups of which Coompanion helps each year.
It’s Maria’s ambition that this number will only continue to grow. “There are so many interesting ideas coming to us all the time. We’re glad we’re based here - I just hope we can grow bigger and help even more people.”