B Tennessee focused on helping Tennessee catch-up with emerging national movement

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Bruce Allen has a real passion for the rapidly growing benefit corporation movement. Fortunately, so does Rockridge Venture Law where he works as an Impact and Innovation Fellow and also as the organizer of a new entity named B Tennessee.

Founded in 2017 by Kevin Christopher with the stated goal of becoming “the preeminent intellectual property and technology firm across the Appalachian Innovation Corridor,” Rockridge now has offices in Chattanooga, Memphis, Nashville and Durham, NC. The firm earned a 2021 “Real Leaders Impact Award” that recognizes the top 150 companies that are “applying capitalism for greater profit and greater good,” joining well-recognized honorees like Patagonia, Tesla, Etsy and Unilever. It also is Tennessee’s only business recognized by B Lab (“B Corp Best for the World”) and 1% For The Planet for its commitment to triple bottom line business practices.

For Allen, a native of Sparta who returned to the state after graduating from Princeton University, working for Rockridge and leading the growth effort for B Tennessee is an opportunity to support the region.

“B Corps are gaining a lot of traction nationally,” he told us during a recent interview, adding, “Georgia and North Carolina are way ahead of the game in comparison to Tennessee, and I think we have the opportunity to build on their traction.” The effort includes both those enterprises that identify as benefit corporations and those that are actually certified by a third party as a B Corp.

Allen describes his mission as quickly helping the Volunteer State catch-up to its Southeastern peers, starting at the beginning.

“We need to focus on B Corp awareness, engagement and growth,” he says. That process began with a late 2019 event at Patagonia’s Nashville store, just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic which put an initial damper on efforts to launch a new organization. B Tennessee also held a follow-up virtual event last fall and is in the process of incorporating as a 501 (c)(3) educational organization.

“Our model is B Local Georgia,” Allen says, noting the organization’s tagline – making a profit and making a difference aren’t mutually exclusive. “Founder and Director Nathan Stuck has been an amazing resource for us to lean on.”

Allen outlines several reasons for organizations joining B Tennessee, starting with the fact that the Volunteer State has been slow to embrace the movement. They include attracting, hiring and retaining talent; ability to raise capital from investors interested in the benefit corporation initiative; and establishing benchmarks for holistic corporate improvement.

“We want to create a community of purpose-driven business leaders, and becoming a B Corp should not be perceived as an obstacle,” Allen explains, citing a report issued by Yale University’s Center for Business and the Environment. Titled “Just Good Business: An Investor’s Guide to B Corps,” the publication explores the distinct financial value offered by Certified B Corporations and Benefit Corporations.

Allen wants B Tennessee to be viewed as the B Corp authority for Tennessee. As he ramps-up activities in 2021, he’s mindful of the continuing challenges of holding in-person events, so the calendar will include virtual coffee chats, “Better Business Toolkits”, and B Corp 101 Workshops. There’s also an online resource library on the horizon.

B Tennessee also has a newly formed Board of Directors that includes Allen; Emily Medley, a Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Katie Foster, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University; and Kevin Christopher, Founder of Rockridge Venture Law.

“We’re just getting started here,” Allen adds.

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