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November 01, 2021 | Tom Ballard

Obran Cooperative operates with a very unique business model

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Obran Cooperative Corporation has a very unique business model, one that we had not been aware of when we reconnected recently with Shaun Randolph and were subsequently introduced to Joseph Cureton.

One might describe the focus with a single, but powerful word – empowerment. Whether it’s integrating profit-sharing into the compensation practices of a business or re-writing corporate bylaws to include democratic governance, Obran is in the business of positioning employee owners to fully participate in and benefit from workplace decisions. The Baltimore-based enterprise writes that its “work is built to serve those closest to the problem of economic and social oppression.”

Randolph has ties to Tennessee, having served for eight months in 2019 as Capital Program Manager for Launch Tennessee. While at LaunchTN he coordinated closely with underserved entrepreneurs across the Volunteer State to integrate more inclusive capital solutions, like revenue-based investments, into LaunchTN’s Impact Fund which still has those features to this day. Now, as part of the Obran Cooperative team, he’s a worker-owner of the investment firm and hopes to help identify potential candidates in the Volunteer State and beyond for the enterprise to acquire and hold.

So, what is Obran Cooperative exactly?

Cureton is the Chief Coordinating Officer at Obran Cooperative and also a founding member of Core Staffing, the company started in 2016 that led to the launch of the parent holding company three years later. He describes the entity as a “worker-owned holding cooperative (that) harnesses the engines of business for humanity.” Noting that “cooperatives are as old as any business in the United States,” Cureton explains that Obran Cooperative “finds great entrepreneurs like Shaun, trains them to identify acquisition targets, then Obran provides the financing to close on the acquisition. Post-acquisition, the business becomes part of Obran Cooperative, and all its workers are offered an opportunity to join Obran’s membership as worker-owners.”

So, in 2018 – two years after launching Core Staffing, the team founded Tribe Works as a tool focused on gig economy workers to make freelancing work better. The platform provides shared services like a guaranteed payment pool, invoice and collections management, access to a healthcare benefits package, and a support network.

Then, in 2019, Obran Cooperative was established as a holding company for both Core Staffing and Tribe Works with two more entities acquired since then. In response to our question about the types of businesses of interest, Cureton used a home health company in the Pacific Northwest as an example. It has 550 employees and close to $2 million in EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization).

“We see our model as a viable transition strategy for a legacy business,” Cureton says, adding that candidates need to be in a growing sector with a strong customer base. “We’ll price it at the market.”

Obran Cooperative is also interested in talking with individuals who might want to be investors in its activities.

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