Workers to Owners

The opportunity: There is a wave of baby boomer small business owners in the United States retiring or planning to retire in the coming years.  According to the NY Times“Every year 150,000 to 300,000 businesses owned at least in part by boomers become candidates for employee takeovers as their owners hit retirement age. That means that over the next 15 years, retiring boomers could help create two to four million new worker-owned businesses nationwide." 

Our approach: To seize this opportunity, the Democracy at Work Institute has convened Workers to Ownersa national collaborative to bring worker ownership to scale through conversions of existing businesses. In the initial pilot phase of the collaborative, our goals are to work with our partners to:

  •  Develop scalable models and test them with pilot projects
  •  Develop a comprehensive set of tools and standards for the models
  •  Train service providers on the models and standards of practice
  •  Research potential markets that would result in a large quantity of successful deals
  •  Troubleshoot existing barriers to scale (for example, increase the amount of patient capital available for deals)

After the pilot phase, we will launch a coordinated campaign to spur an unprecedented number of transitions to worker ownership through strategic pipeline building, outreach and education, advocating for supportive regulations and policy, developing sustainable funding sources, developing a comprehensive national network of service providers, and more. In all aspects of our role, we provide strategic focus with regard to communities most excluded from business ownership -- communities of color, low-wage and rural workers.

Recent updates and progress: 

  • Save the Date: On April 11, 2016, we will host a one-day seminar in Minneapolis in collaboration with the National Center for Employee Ownership at the 2016 Employee Ownership Conference
  • We recently launched Becoming Employee Owned, a website business owners considering a sale to workers
  • On January 31, we will publish financing case studies to educate finance institutions on how to invest in conversions to worker ownership
  • We are working to develop effective practices and scale strategies with technical assistance partners, including the Cooperative Development Institute, the ICA Group, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center, Project Equity, the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, the Vermont Employee Ownership Center, and the Working World, and more
  • We are working to increase the amount of capital available for conversions to worker ownership with a network of finance institutions including Capital Impact Partners, the Cooperative Fund of New England, National Cooperative Bank, the Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund, the Leaf Fund, the Ohio Employee Ownerhip Center, Transform Finance, the Working World, and more
  • We are working with an experienced network of lawyers to develop legal best practices and templates, including attorneys from the Sustainable Economies Law Center, Carolina Common Enterprise, Cutting Edge Capital, Coop Law Group, and the ICA Group as well as solo practitioners including Terry Jones, Deborah Groban Olson, Jason Wiener, and more
  • We are partnering with the Democracy Collaborative to research the conversions landscape, potential impact, and strategies for scale


We would like to thank the following donors for their generous support of Workers to Owners:

  • The Surdna Foundation
  • Capital Impact Partners
  • Citi Community Development
  • The United States Department of Agriculture | Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program