Mark Eckhardt and Rob Schuham
A growing number of social enterprises are adopting blockchain these days, tapping the technology’s ability to build safe, transparent networks. One recent example is COMMON, a social entrepreneurship accelerator and collaborative community based in Boulder, Col.
COMMON just 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. “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.
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. 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 such platforms 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, tap virtual services, like finance and accounting advice, as well as interacting with each other. They also can take part in “Maniacal Business Attacks”, through which they can focus on anything from prototype generation to a new-product launch, tapping the expertise of the network. (That kind of work also is done through the consultancy side). To join COMMON, you have to apply and go through a vetting process; there’s also a 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.
Soon, COMMON also 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. If, say, 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 four to eight 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.