Getting funding as an entrepreneur is not always easy, but luckily The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) prides itself as being the only bank exclusively devoted to entrepreneurs. The BDC has been generously supporting our Social Venture Institute gatherings as well as other purpose-oriented communities.
We sat down (virtually) with their B Corp team, Craig and Carla, to talk about the B Corp movement, the impact of COVID-19, and the role of value-driven entrepreneurs. Craig Ryan is the Director of Purpose Entrepreneurship, and Carla Heim is the Senior Advisor.
Certified B Corporations are businesses that balance purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.
What is the importance of supporting the Social Venture Institute (SVI) for BDC?
Carla: SVI brings together emerging leaders, companies that have real purpose and impact in mind and all of the other complementary actors to a safe space to ask difficult questions that maybe they haven’t felt comfortable asking in other circles. Participants also get the chance to really talk about leadership and how you want to move forward with all of the major issues that have become very prevalent during these past six months. SVI is a very forgiving and explorative space. Moreover I found it to be very nurturing even while being virtual. I attended SVI Virtual in April and found that same immense connection with others. I see how important it is to be prepared for the unknown and to support local communities, and that is not going anywhere.
I also see a direct connection between my work in the B Corp movement and the SVI community, I highly support the B Impact Assessment as a tool to start exploring items like JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion), climate action, and supply chain management to name a few. This tool allows entrepreneurs to go through everything about their businesses or what kind of business they want to create or what kind of leader they want to be in a way that’s very succinct, detailed and rigorous. It allows them to choose their own adventure but it reminds them about the important pieces that should be embedded into their business going forward as well.
What has BDC learned in promoting the B Corp movement in general and during COVID?
Craig: The B Corp movement is a socio-cultural movement of people, it is not the business case. It is not a mass movement but it is a global experiment that is working, and it is exactly the kind of experiment that the world needs right now.
One of the things that we’ve seen since the COVID economic shutdown is an instant clarity of thought in consumers about the importance and the plight of local businesses, so we see this massive rise in the Buy Local movement and we see many businesses are adapting to that. It’s important to understand, however, that the companies that we see in the B Corp workshops across Canada are the people who are not just robotically adjusting to a new market condition; these are the people who are the same as the Buy Local consumers, these are the people who remain citizens even though they’re successful business people and those are the kinds of companies they create. It’s a subtle distinction between that and the conventional business case. At BDC we have learned to distinguish between attracting such intrinsically motivated entrepreneurs to the very useful tool that is the B Impact Assessment and trying to persuade the conventional minded people that they should change.
It is about a different way of defining success, it is bigger and broader than just having a goal to make money. Although what surprises a lot of people is that these businesses are actually as profitable and robust as conventional companies in every sector of the economy everywhere.
As bankers, we’ve seen that if the business is a B Corp, it tends to be better managed.That’s because you have to get through a comprehensive evaluation every three years. To insert those best practices, policies, and actions into your company tends to produce a better managed company in general. So the business benefits of using the B Corp tool are clear to us.
Carla: In this world of impact and purpose quite often we have leaders who decide they want to create a business with purpose and impact but they don’t really think about how they can make the business viable and there’s always this sort of balancing act there. My advice to the SVI community who are just starting up is to be aware that having reliability in your business plan actually increases your capacity to do good in this world. The B Impact Assessment really helps such leaders to think about the viability of their business so they can create more impact.
Craig: 99% of the B Corp companies are at first glance completely conventional and regular. For example one of our clients runs a bakery is Montreal. Her contribution to impact in Montreal is 135 livelihoods. Yes, she is selling bread. She is not saving lives by opening hospitals in Africa, but that woman in my view is a star and every place in Canada needs way more of her. She treats her people well while she’s keeping that business going through this COVID time. What Carla and I have learned is that there are way more of her than there are people at innovation incubators, and to us the gold is that.
For these businesses when COVID hit, the first reflex was to create livelihood rather than automatically outsource. It was to build regional supply chains rather than just go online and find supplies in another country. Those values-driven habits saved their businesses when the country started closing down. We see particular businesses that are continuing to do well and enjoying increasing sales precisely because neither of their employees nor their supply chain were frozen out of contribution by the COVID crisis.
What have BDC and you personally learned in this time of COVID?
Craig: What we learned is that it is hard to be an entrepreneur, a lot of people run small- and medium-sized businesses across Canada and there was a stampede of these people to us for support. We have been all hands on deck to do historic numbers of loans, for 99% of cases it’s not about pivoting, it’s about staying alive. 60% of Canadian companies that do not have an online presence can’t even get to the local market, so we recommend having your online presence even if most of your clients are in town.
For me personally I’m tired of meeting online, I miss the camaraderie of real in-person conversation and I think like everybody else this time allowed to make it clear what’s important and what’s not.
Carla: It’s been in some ways a roller coaster so that you have good days and bad days. I lost my mom, so that first part of the pandemic was very challenging. On the plus side I have my family back together – my boys are actually living with us back in Kelowna so that’s been a really nice thing because I never thought they’d be home again.
On the business side of things I really wasn’t sure how entrepreneurs were going to prioritize the B Corp movement and I am so happy to say that I’ve never been busier. I think a lot of entrepreneurs took the extra time to really rethink their businesses, a lot really do want to build back better and are looking at some critical points within their business plan which include a lot of the key factors in B Impact Assessment.
Even though being on the virtual platform for a full day is tiring, it allowed me to talk to so many entrepreneurs and it allowed them to attend our programs like B Corp 101. I’m very grateful that we were able to still reach that many entrepreneurs and provide them with helpful tools and advice.
In the B Corp community I really feel like we’ve all banded together and really shared personally how we’re feeling every day. Some of our B Local groups have been getting together, all we do is actually do a round table on how we’re feeling for the day. Most recently we have really dived into the anti-racist movement.
So much is happening around those really important topics that are vulnerable and personal. We actually see people on a whole other level now, we see into their homes, the dogs are coming in, the kids are popping up, and we’re all very tolerant of that in comparison with how it was before. Everybody is so much more real and I think that is maybe the one saving grace that is helping us get through all of this – we are here for each other.
SVI gives you the same kind of comfort when you all get together and you have a chat. We really need the get-together like SVI and the B Corp Community to keep us thriving.
We couldn’t agree more! Thanks for taking the time to gather today to share your thoughts.
Graphics credit: BDC