Alabama entrepreneurs join the charitable movement

When Rebecca Denson and her husband, Clint, started Sachai Tea Co., the idea of ​​improving their community and the world was a key part of their business plan.

The same goes for Chris Sims and his partners at CAVU, a virtual career and corporate development company.

Like-minded businesses are among the first in Alabama to seek and achieve “nonprofit corporation” status – a newly approved structure for businesses that want to “do good by doing good,” as Sims describes it. .

Sachai sells its tea directly to consumers but also produces chai concentrate for the retail and wholesale markets. (contributed)

“We were definitely drawn to it,” said Rebecca Denson, whose business reorganized into a charitable corporation.

“Impact is a big part of who we are,” added Denson, whose Birmingham-based company imports sustainably sourced tea from small producers in India. The tea is sold direct to consumers but is also used to produce a long-life cellar concentrate for the retail and wholesale markets.

Sachai Tea plans to open an incubation kitchen in the Birmingham area – a place where food entrepreneurs, especially those from minority and underfunded communities, can develop products and grow their businesses.

“Basically we have multiple results,” said Denson, who grew up in South India. She and her husband, who grew up in Mississippi, and their children now live in Birmingham’s underfunded Titusville neighborhood. She envisions growing her business to provide opportunities for neighborhood residents and hopefully inspire other businesses to locate in the area.

“It’s not just about profit; it’s about impact, ”Denson said. “It’s about education; it’s about culture.

Going down the path of charitable corporations, she added, “was an opportunity to be part of an effort, to be the encouragement, to make changes in the market.”

Sims and his Birmingham-based CAVU investors have a similar worldview, albeit in a very different industry. CAVU brings together early-career and experienced business leaders for virtual training focused on business development and scale-up, and mastery of digital business development platforms. The name is an aviation slang acronym for “Unlimited Ceiling and Visibility.”

A new business that was recently formed out of another Birmingham startup, CAVU was, from the start, a benefits company.

Sims said CAVU’s business model, like Sachai Tea’s, goes beyond traditional bottom lines. Its mission is to provide educational opportunities at low cost or free of charge, among others, to people of color and the LGBTQ community who have limited incomes and who may not have access to CAVU’s tools and expertise. .

“We want to find these people and give them the opportunity to build high paying careers,” Sims said.

“We didn’t want to go down the nonprofit route because we’re not afraid of making money,” Sims explained. “On the other hand, we didn’t want profit to overshadow our desire to support the community.

Sims said CAVU works with local nonprofits and other partners to research and train people with limited means, as well as offer a variety of services to clients who don’t face the same challenges. “What is most important to us at CAVU is helping people build great careers and great businesses.”

Alabama is 38e state to authorize benefit companies. The Alabama legislature approved the structure of the benefit corporation in 2020, with support from Alabama Power and other interested individuals and organizations.

A charitable corporation is a for-profit business “driven by both mission and profit.” The company is held by shareholders to produce financial results while providing a public benefit, ”according to the Alabama Benefit Corporation Association (ABCA), a new organization created to help educate people and businesses in the state about the benefits. charitable societies.

Hallie Bradley is part of the nonprofit Alabama Power Foundation, which works with the ABCA to spread the word about charitable corporations. So far, more than 400 people, businesses and organizations have received information, and more than a dozen companies are in the process of becoming charitable corporations. The foundation’s ongoing awareness-raising effort has attracted national media attention.

Bradley said many startups and young entrepreneurs find the company’s structure of benefits attractive because of their interest in being financially successful and having a positive impact on their communities.

Research supported by the foundation suggests that benefit companies may be suitable for many women and minority entrepreneurs in the state. According to ongoing research from the University of Alabama and its partners, with support from the Alabama Power Foundation, growing these businesses – which sometimes struggle to compete – and helping create more could over time. time have a significant positive impact on Alabama’s economy.

Sims said it was intentional from the start to go the charity route. He said the founders wanted the company’s goal of supporting disadvantaged people in the community to be clear from the start, so it could attract investors with a similar mindset.

“It draws a line in the sand, saying we do things differently,” Sims said. He said CAVU is growing rapidly; over the past year, it has trained over 1,000 people and has 40 to 50 learners per week across the world.

Indeed, Sims and Denson have said they intend to actively support efforts to increase the number of benefit companies in Alabama. They are considering steps beyond benefits company status.

In addition to the legal structure of the Alabama benefit company, businesses can become B Corps certified through an independent certification process. A number of well-known global brands, from Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to Tom’s of Maine, Warby Parker and Patagonia, as well as dozens of small companies, have become B Corps certified.

“I was born and raised in Alabama,” Sims said. “I want to see Alabama grow and improve.

“Being a public utility means you can do good by doing good,” Sims added. “They don’t need to be separated. You can build a great and wonderful business, you can do it phenomenally – and make the world a better place. “

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