Starting a Co-op

In many ways, developing a co-operative business is a lot like developing a traditional business. Where things differ is that a co-op is shaped through collective effort and group decision-making as well as a set of co-operative principles that help to guide the business. This makes the business planning more complex, but it also means the resulting corporation is stronger and more likely to succeed.

Why start a co-op?.


  • You (and your organizing group) want to respond to a need/challenge/opportunity in your community in a democratic and sustainable way;
  • A local or small business is closing and you wish to maintain the business and employment opportunities for your community; or
  • Employees wish to buy out their employer and take over the business.


On Co-op uses this "aging" classification for co-operative development

  • In Formation is generally from the organizing committee stage up to the day prior to incorporation
  • Emerging, or “new” is from day of incorporation up to 5 years
  • Established is 5 years and older based on date of incorporation as a co-op



Discover the entrepreneurial model that focuses on the triple bottom line, through a workshop by the Ontario Co-operative Association 

For details on having this workshop presented to your organization (for example to co-ops in formation, business support organizations or other groups), contact Peter Cameron using the contact links below.

This meeting will cover the following points:

  • Types of co-ops and benefits of the model
  • Co-op job creation case studies
  • The co-op difference: how do co-ops compare?
  • How to incorporate a co-operative
  • Raising capital using an Offering Statement
  • Sector opportunities for co-op development
  • Succession planning and co-op conversions
  • Programs for youth
  • The Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade

 Other ways to learn about co-ops: Attend the Co-operative Management Certificate Program, register for one of On Co-op's e-learning courses on co-operatives, download documents and other information from our website and document library ... or call us and chat.


Historically, people have created co-ops for a variety of reasons:

  • out of need to decrease the power that others hold against them in the marketplace and increase their own power, whether it is through purchasing or marketing co-operatives.
  • to provide a service that other forms of enterprise are not offering.
  • to respond to a local opportunity, or solve a challenge affecting your community/region/group
  • as a means of keeping a community or business alive. For example, many workers' co operatives are organized when a private business is no longer able to maintain the industry within that community.
  • to provide business continuity when the owner of a small business wishes to retire (succession planning or exit strategy)
  • as a means of keeping profits and control of a business within the community, rather than with a large, remotely owned and operated corporation. A co-operative is owned and controlled locally. Therefore, the earnings of the co-operative stay in the community and are directed by members of the community.


There are number of critical steps to follow if you are interested in forming a co-operative. You may already have a core group of people with whom you are working. You may already be a business but would like to convert to a co-operative structure. Perhaps you are not sure what kind of business structure you want.

On Co-op has created Guide to Starting a Co-op, which provides a general overview of the co-op development process that can help you explore the steps required to plan, develop, incorporate and launch your co-operative. This guide can be downloaded at the top right of this page. Some of the text in this section is based on information from the Co-operatives Secretariat and the BC Co-operative Association.


Once you've read through the Starting a Co-op Guide, you can search through our co-op resources to see what other sorts of useful materials might be available to you. You can also make an appointment to speak with our co-op development staff to work through your idea and get answers to detailed questions that can help you plan out your next steps. You will find a brief advisory services application form under "downloads" at the right of this page - filling it out and submitting it prior to your appointment will save you valuable time and money. We're also available for more in-depth consultations on a fee for service basis.

If the Co-operative Corporations Act is baffling you, On Co-op has also created a plain-language guide to the Act to help you navigate the legal side of running a co-op. Contact our Co-op Development Manager using the information at the bottom of this page to order a copy or click on the 'for more information' link at right.


  • Want to learn more about Developing a Co-op? On Co-op has an e-Learning course that will introduce you to the multi-faceted process of co-operative business development, including how to decide what business structure is right for your business, how to conduct a feasibility study, how to develop a business plan and the role of co-op developers. Once you have registered for this self-study course, it is available to you as a resource 24/7/365.
  • The 'Developing A Co-op' e-Learning course includes the following topics: How to identify a business need or opportunity; How to decide on the best business structure; How to develop an economic model to fill the identified need; The importance of leadership as it relates to starting a co-operative; The importance of finance as it relates to starting a co-operative; and The role of co-op developers.
  • On Co-op e-Learning courses can be completed in about seven to ten hours, approximately 2-3 hours of which will be spent online. Each course includes a printed course pack and other resources.
  • Learn more about this and other e-Learning courses from On Co-op at

If you still have questions, or you'd rather discuss your ideas than read about them, feel free to contact us by phone 519.763.8271 or [requires javascript]. On Co-op maintains a Co-ops 411 Hotline (general co-op information by phone or email) and a Co-ops 911 Hotline (for urgent or more pressing issues including governance/democracy challenges).  Promoting co-operative development and co-op sustainability is what we do!  We have the resources and the referral network to help you on your way.

JOIN THE ONTARIO CO-OPERATIVE ASSOCIATION. Co-ops under development as well as individuals who are part of the co-op movement are welcome to join On Co-op to take full advantage of our range of products, services, discounted offers and programs. 

UTILIZE A CO-OP DEVELOPER. A reminder that your own legal or financial advisors may not be familiar with all of the options available to you when organizing as a co-operative business enterprise. We recommend you contact a Co-operative Developer and/or On Co-op in addition to your own trusted advisors to ensure that you have chosen the best enterprise model for you.  (And yes... sometimes that is NOT a co-operative!)




Our newest e-newsletter is available!

Nov 14, 2014 - Check out the most recent issue of our e-newsletter. (text version)at the link below.

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Fall 2015 Provincial Conference & Spirit Award Celebration

Oct 28, 2015 - On Co-op's Provincial Co-op Conference and Celebration is back! Join us for a full day of learning, sharing, networking and celebrating as we bring back some old traditions and start some new ones!

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Find a Co-op


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At On Co-op, we make it our mission to provide information that leads, cultivates and connects to the co-operative sector.