Venture capitalists want their portfolio companies to grow as quickly as possible. Social entrepreneurs want the flexibility to put other things before profits--and not just in the short term. Does that mean social entrepreneurs should forget about venture capital?
Not necessarily, says Amy George, the founder and CEO of BlueAvocado. Her company makes reusable shopping and lunch bags and has also raised venture capital. George was speaking on a panel about social entrepreneurship at the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network in Austin last week.
Of particular concern is the B Corp designation, which holds companies to certain standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. The worry is that social and environmental responsibility will slow a company's growth, making it undesirable to VCs.
George's company, a certified B Corp, recently closed a round of venture funding. "I would love to tell you there's a multiple on the good we're going to do as a company," she said. "But the truth is the triple-bottom-line balance sheet doesn't exist." Instead, investors consider the fact that BlueAvocado hires refugee women and uses recycled materials to be externalities.
For BlueAvocado, George said, whether or not to become a B Corp was a personal question. And she wanted investors who valued her social mission, and would appreciate that a B Corp designation would help her execute on it. "If being a B Corp was going to turn someone away?" she asked, "better that we should know now." She said that most of her investors are not specifically impact investors.
She also pointed out that some B Corps are growing very quickly. The natural organics market is growing twice as quickly as the consumer packaged goods industry, she said, and B Corps are growing at a rate 15 percent above that. While there are still only about 1,000 B Corps, marquee names that have chosen the B Corp designation, such as Warby Parker and Method, will help make B Corps more mainstream.
In time, George expects more investors will be willing to put money into B Corps. All it will take, she said, "is more exit data, and more strong exits." Consider that a challenge.