To create the genuine, authentic environment they always envisioned for their business, the founders of I Am Me Mentors knew that it all started with culture. A culture that emphasized human-centric processes, valued individualized student and client experiences, and put decision making into the hands of those doing the work - the employees.
Coming from careers in education, Rowen Thomas and Michaela Miller met in 2019 and were inspired to start their own tutoring business. The co-founders quickly determined that employee ownership was the first step in building an environment where they would actually want to work.
“Generally speaking, workers, owners, and people who are on the ground doing the work day to day are the ones who know the most about how they want to be treated,” said Co-Founder and Mentor, Rowen Thomas. “Cooperatives in general are a way of centralizing our humanity and compassion.”
Cooperatives are driven by principals such as concern for community, democratic decision making, and equality. By leveraging these values, a cooperative model would allow them to foster a healthy, supportive environment. Within a year, they met other individuals who shared their vision, and the group of five launched I Am Me Mentors Cooperative.
The business and their partners empower students of all ages to share their authentic selves through personalized mentorship, top-notch tutoring, career counseling, justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) family coaching, and their list of their services goes on.
When first embarking on their employee ownership journey, the business considered becoming a service cooperative, since many team members had run their own tutoring businesses. However, after working together for some time, they realized how frequently they collaborated, depended on one another, and enjoyed building the business together. It was also important that I Am Me Mentors lasted longer than any of their individual times at the business - making a worker cooperative the best fit. With the added support of the Employee Ownership Grant to help cover their conversion costs, I Am Me Mentors officially made the conversion.
Now each employee-owner spearheads a function of the cooperative, such as marketing, relations, and curriculum. Thomas described their methodology, saying:
“We allow folks to lean into their strengths, as well as take on opportunities that challenge them and allow them to grow. It also inspires employee-owners to take on leadership positions, and encourages folks who typically take on ownership to take a step back to allow others to contribute.”
Their most surprising benefit of employee ownership was the validation that they had created something impactful. Their goal was to build a business not only as educators, but also as people. With this in mind, they have fostered an empowering space in the process.
Thomas emphasized that being employee-owned - and running a business in general - is a continuous journey. But, despite all the learning involved, they believe all businesses would benefit from employee ownership. The power of having invested workers led to their own human-centric culture, and would be helpful for all businesses to stay in touch with their employees’ needs.
If you are interested in or pursuing employee ownership for your business, learn about available funding opportunities offered by the Employee Ownership Office, including the Employee Ownership Grant and Employee Ownership Tax Credit.