Step one, Hackathon: Asheville network coalesces to grow area B Corp community

B Lab is headquartered in  Wayne, Pennsylvania. They currently certify 1,767 B Corps in 50 different countries.
B Lab is headquartered in Wayne, Pennsylvania. They currently certify 1,767 B Corps in 50 different countries.

What the heck is a hackathon? It may sound like an epic, machete-wielding footrace through the jungle, or a competition to see who can break into computer systems the fastest, but, in fact, it’s both tamer and more noble — it’s about bringing people together to collaborate. The term is borrowed from collaborative computer programming events. In this case, it’s meant to describe an upcoming event that will bring together interested parties to act as a group to expand the local B Corporation (B Corp) community.

B Corporations are for-profit companies that have attained certification through B Lab, a globally active nonprofit that sets the rules for and spearheads the B Corp movement. The certification is meant to show that a company brings a set of values to the table beyond the traditional corporate standard of being solely concerned with maximizing profit. B Corps add to that goal, to include maximizing benefit to the environment and to society. Thus, it is often said that B Corps operate under the “triple bottom line” of: people, planet and profit.

Local owners of certified B Corps and the nonprofit community development financial institution, Mountain BizWorks, have been working together to form the new Asheville B Corp Network to make Western North Carolina a hot spot for B Corps. They are calling their first big event Fast Track Hackathon and they are inviting business leaders to take part.

Michael Whelchel is co-founder and managing partner of Big Path Capital, an Asheville-based financial services company and one of the founding B Corps. And he has been instrumental in getting the local B Corps network together and reaching out to interested business owners. He says that the tight-knit group of area B Corp owners, and others who were curious about B Corps, have already established a meet-up style group. “We started having these, kind of, monthly luncheons,” Whelchel says, “and it was great because it really wasn’t just about B Corps, but it was really people interested in learning about how to use business as a force for good.”

“Our region is home to a great number of triple bottom line companies that maximize social and environmental impacts along with financial results,” says Peter Krull, president of B Corp Krull & Company, a local investment and financial planning firm. An Asheville B Corp Network press release says the network will help connect and certify … entrepreneurs and businesses so they can advance their efforts and gain the benefits of achieving B Corp certification.”

If the progressive tone of local marketing efforts is any indication, Krull is right that many companies in Asheville and WNC are concerned with giving back to the community and minimizing environmental impact. And now this local network aims to push such conscientious companies toward the idea that B Corp certification can be useful to separate the wheat from the chaff and help consumers, as BizWorks says, “tell the difference between good marketing and a good company.” Matt Raker, director of community investments and impact for Mountain BizWorks, explains, “It’s kind of like getting organic certified in the food space.”

To get the ball rolling for local companies, Asheville B Corp Network is putting on its inaugural hackathon. This way, network organizers say, they can get people excited and working together in a supportive way. They are expecting 20 to 30 local business owners and/or leaders to participate in their upcoming Fast Track Hackathon on June 21 at Deltec Homes (Asheville’s most recently certified B Corp, see Beyond profit: Deltec earns B Corp status, April 13, 2016) from 3 to 5 p.m. Attendees will work toward completing the B Impact Assessment with a quick assessment tool. A networking social will immediately follow the hackathon from 5:30 until 7 p.m. at New Belgium Brewing (also a B Corp). Interested business representatives are welcome at either or both. Leah B. Noel, CPA; Cloud for Good, in Biltmore Forest; and Bark House, a tree-bark building material company in Spruce Pine will round out the current complement of WNC’s B Corps.

It won’t be easy, and certification isn’t the work of an afternoon. “It’s a very rigorous assessment process around a company’s social and environmental impacts, as well as how their company is structured,” Raker explains. He says the process is meant to reveal if the company is “structured to serve all of its stakeholders, not just its direct shareholders.”

The comprehensive B Lab assessment assigns a numeric value to things like paying a living wage and having an environmentally preferable purchasing policy. Companies have to meet a certain score value (80 out of a possible 200) to qualify for certification. “The goal of the hackathon,” Raker outlines, “is to help companies that are interested in learning more about the B Corp certification process or are already [in the certification process] to … work in sort of a peer-to-peer process as well as with some of our already certified companies on how to improve their score.” Representatives from B Lab will also be on hand to help out.

Welchel is excited about the hackathon and new companies exploring the notion of becoming certified. “There’s a lot of concepts that are talked about, and I think people have the gist of the core philosophy,” he says, “but taking that kind of step further and saying, ‘What am I actually doing, how does that measure up, and what are next steps that I can improve on my business?’ I think when you get to the assessment, it’s about taking it from concept to practice.”

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About Able Allen
Able studied political science and history at Warren Wilson College. He enjoys travel, dance, games, theater, blacksmithing and the great outdoors. Follow me @AbleLAllen

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