On April 27, 2012 San Francisco University and B Lab hosted the (B)enefit Corporations West Coast Forum. It was a day of seminars, talks, and networking intended to connect academia with social entrepreneurs, and to provide an overview of the benefit corporation movement.
One of the interesting panel discussions featured three social entrepreneurs who actively pursue triple bottom line results in their companies. It was moderated by San Francisco-based B Lab Director of Business Development, Dermot Hikisch.
Here is a rundown of the speakers and a few of their key points.
Mike Hannigan, President of Give Something Back
Give Something Back (GSB) is the largest business to business office supplier in California, and has been running for around 20 years. What makes the business socially entrepreneurial is that the company pays competitive wages, but invests 100% of its profits to community non-profits.
Hannigan reiterated that the community was the key stakeholder in his company, which is a registered B corporation. (Note: a point of confusion is b corporation v. benefit corporation. They aren’t the same thing! Learn about the differences here). He noted that when the company was launched two decades ago, it represented a new and novel way of doing businesses, but that he is noticing more and more new companies being started with social mission in mind.
He also underscored the concept that his business has been successful because, at its core, it has a strong business model and can beat out its competition. In fulfilling the company’s vision to support the community and environment, employees receive competitive wages and full health benefits.
Hannigan outlined the democratic process the company engages in to decide on where to redistribute profits within the community. GSB polls their 10,000+ customers and clients to decide on the causes and organizations to support.
Kirsten Saenz Tobey, Founder and CEO of Revolution Foods
If the audience wasn’t already wowed by the history, and operations of Give Something Back—Kirsten Saenz Toby’s story about how and why she started Revolution Foods surely inspired the room.
Tobey started the company six years ago after to change the way kids eat at school and with the vision of fundamentally changing the relationship between food and kids.
She outlined her company’s founding value with simplicity: food should be real. Tobey and her team found ways to replace processed foods (with numerous additives and preservatives, high salt content, and too many grams of sugar) with healthy, nourishing alternatives. And they found ways to mass produce and deliver these healthy meals to local schools on a daily basis.
Tobey also spoke about honoring and respecting the workforce, and shared that in addition to providing full health benefits, her business model makes each employee part-owner of the company.
As they say, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case maybe in the fruit and yogurt parfait. The company has grown fast, very fast. Revolution Foods has gone from preparing and delivering 500 meals per day in 2006 to 120,000 meals per day in 2011. And, it is expanding to eight different regions across the country.
Revolution Foods certified as a b corporation (not the same as a benefit corporation) in 2011. Tobey spoke about the certification process, saying that it was valuable in outlining a roadmap for how her company wanted to grow, expand, and operate. She mentioned that as a social entrepreneur, she has often found it her role to educate potential investors about what b corporations are and what the triple bottom line entails.
In answering an audience question about the future of Revolution Foods, she didn’t rule out an exit strategy such as an intial public offering (IPO) or acquisition by a larger company.
Vincent Siciliano, President and CEO of New Resource Bank
Turning to a banking state of mind, the third panelist Vincent Siciliano of New Resource Bank opened his presentation by asking if we knew where our money “spends the night.” He spoke about his company’s goal of ensuring that every dollar of depositor’s funding is invested in building a sustainable community.
Founded in 2006, New Resource Bank has aimed to bring new resources and create new opportunities for sustainable business. Siciliano mentioned that the bank became a certified B Corporation in 2010.
He expanded on the ways his bank evaluates impact for its stakeholders, mentioning a client sustainability assessment that identifies learners, achievers, leaders, and champions in sustainability. New Resource Bank actively practices slow banking because it does not consciously seek an exit strategy, but instead focuses on long term growth and reach, franchising, and creating lasting economic impact in communities.
Answering questions from the audience, Siciliano mentioned foundations as an emerging source of funding social entrepreneurs, in addition to VC funding and crowd sourced funding. For example, Kellogg Foundation became an equity investor in Revolution Foods.
When asked about the academic community’s role in the (b)enefit corporation movement, Siciliano reiterated the need for impact metrics to support data-driven decision-making.