Cooperative Entrepreneurs Boot Camp. Mondragon Team Academy. Churchill Fellowship Post 4

Martin and Jon, fantastic hosts, great people.Yesterday I had a “I wish I was 18 again” experience…

I was wishing I was 18 again so I could go to Bilbao and spend four years doing a degree in Entrepreneurial Leadership and Innovation at Mondragon University. I’m not kidding.

This was all slightly unexpected, and I’ll cover that in the next post under; ‘the best things happen without a plan’. My ‘meeting free’ afternoon turned into a brilliant opportunity to spent time talking with students (Martin and Jon above) on the LEINN Degree Course (Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, link here), and touring their Innovation Lab at BBF, Bilbao Berrikuntza Faktroria (even the name sounds cool).

Cooperative Entrepreneur Bootcamp. The reason I was at BBF is because of a conversation in the shadow of Port Talbot Steelworks, South Wales, back in 2016. The conversation was with the incredibly connected Charlotte Galsworthy (thank you Charlotte) and Gorka Espiau (currently at McGill University in Montreal), link to Gorka’s blog here. Gorka has a strong connections with Mondragon University and spoke about a programme in the Basque Country where people come together to develop entrepreneurship and solve problems. He mentioned things like how cooperative behaviours are ‘encouraged’ right from the start, with people being put into teams and told to ‘get on with it’. I’m not sure if Gorka actually used the phrase ‘bootcamp’, but that’s what stuck in my mind (and I wrote it down).

That conversation lit a small, but significant, fire inside me and two years later, I found myself sitting outside what I think is the Bilbao home of the cooperative entrepreneurship ‘bootcampers’, BBF.

Courses on Cooperation at a Cooperative University. That sounds almost too good to be true if you are into cooperatives, but it is.

Mondragon University is part of the Mondragon Corporation, the huge and successful cooperative that sits in the heart of the Basque Country. Here’s a link if you want to know just how big, diverse and successful the Mondragon Corporation is, and there should be more in following posts.

One of the courses Mondragon University run is LEINN, and you can read it and other linked coursed via the Mondragon Team Academy website, here (MTA).

There are some absolute gems in the LEINN brochure like:

  • “The aim of MTA is to turn ourselves into the agents of change… adopting co-operative values”
  • “We train participative, supportive and responsible people… People who can contribute to the development of our society”
  • “To experience a different educational methodology in which we celebrate errors”
  • “A commitment to your society and sustainable development”
  • “The teacher has become a team coach… guiding, advising, asking pertinent questions and narrating the learning experience” (one for Paul Taylor, Innovation Coach at Bromford I think)
  • It’s developed from the Finnish Team Academy approach (and everyone in Wales loves Finnish stuff…)

It’s worth looking at the brochure. It did strike me that what Mondragon are doing here is almost what you might do to grow the future generations that will fully deliver the Well-being of Future Generations Act in Wales, just saying.

Real Conversations with Real People. This is the stuff that really matters and I just want to share a few of the nuggets I picked up in the conversations and informal tour yesterday. This is a bit unstructured, so please bear with me (better to share early I think):

  • The course attracts people with a passion for what they are doing. That was so obvious. These students absolutely loved what they were doing.
  • Many had tried other ‘conventional’ courses and had dropped them in favour of this learning style. One mentioned that they would never succeed on a conventional course, this was different.
  • Cooperation was essential, people are put in teams with strangers at the start, and they ‘have to make things work’. Being ‘dropped’ into a foreign country to work helped this process.
  • They create real business – I saw some of them on the floor above the lab.
  • Accepting failure happens and learning from it was understood.
  • It’s really messy in the lab. Great! There were even drawings on the ceiling (pictures below).
  • Fun was mentioned several times and ‘play’, and how this is lacking in the ‘grown up’ business world
  • Cooperative Principles weren’t actually mentioned, because think the are so deeply embedded that they probably don’t need to.

I could say a lot more, it was slightly unexpected and a bit overwhelming (in a very positive way) to be honest. I’m totally grateful to Jon Azanza ( and Martin Fernandez de Labastida ( Thanks so much to you and your fellow students for welcoming me and being generous with your time and knowledge.

I’ve put my pictures at the end of the post.

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. If you are interested in cooperatives, and a cooperative university that teaches you how to be cooperative, have a look at what MTA does.
  2. There’s a strong connection between what’s happening at MTA Bilbao and what we are trying to do with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in Wales.
  3. Sometimes the best things happen without a plan. Yesterday was ‘unplanned’ but it was brilliant. More about that in the next post.

Links to some of Teams I met:

Jon Azanza

Martin Fernandez de Labastida


Note to self: this is the first post I’ve written using my iPad. Tidy it up when you get home

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

6 Responses

  1. Great stuff Chris. Glad you are finding the visit so inspiring. I did too back in 2012. Did you know the Co-op College in the UK is working to put together a Co-op Uni in the UK? I can put you in touch when you get back if you want to know more.

  2. jon azanza

    Amazing post, it was super good for us to show you our space of work, our way of working and a part of our lives. I was super happy to know you and willing to keep in touch in order to help us in our different projects!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s