It was a fruitful year for the Social Enterprise Trust in 2013, as the group based in Hartford known as reSET opened its community incubator space at 99 Pratt Street, graduated two accelerator classes for startup entrepreneurs and worked with more than 60 groups to advance the cause of business with an explicit social benefit.
But reSET’s main legislative hope, a bill that would allow for “Type-B” benefit corporations,failed for the second straight year as time ran out for a vote in the state Senate last spring.
Now the good news for reSET is that the bill, which would make it easy for companies to incorporate for a purpose other than only profit for owners, is on the fast track this year and seems like a lock to pass.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy showed up at reSET’s Pratt Street office Tuesday to deliver his support, calling the bill a jobs measure – as social enterprise start-ups gain inspiration under the Type-B flag. If that’s not enough, the legislature’s top Democrats issued their jobs agenda for 2014 on Tuesday and the Type-B bill is high on the list of priorities.
Under the proposal, companies that incorporate at Type-B would be subject to traditional corporate laws but would also be allowed to provide a stated public benefit as part of their charter. And they would be held accountable for that, in required annual “benefit reports.”
Malloy, at reSET, wondered why a company “making 90 bags of coffee a day” must have a team of lawyers to draw up its incorporation papers if it wanted to form as a social enterprise. He was referring to A Happy Life, whose founder, Vishal Patel, and chief operating officer Onyeka Obiocha, had just explained their plan to the governor.
The partners, who met at the reSET offices last summer, operate at the incubator offices there. They buy raw coffee that has been bought under Fair Trade standards, and roast and package it in Wallingford, with the goal of not only supporting Fair Trade, but, Patel explained, “using profits to develop solutions or holistic approaches to eradicating poverty in coffee-growing communities in underserved countries.
The market is, of course, heavy with boutique coffee roasting firms hoping to improve conditions where subsistence farmers grow the beans, charging somewhat higher prices — $10.99 for a 12-ounce bag in the case fo A Happy Life. “We’re not justa coffee company. We’re a lifestyle company,” Patel said, with daily online anecdotes, pictures and videos about being happy in life.
“We think we can take Fair Trade to the next level,” said Patel, who works full-time as a research assistant at the Hospital for Special Care, but expects to move full-time to the start-up firm.
After Malloy’s announcement, folks from reSET walked a half-mile in a steady rain to the state Legislative Office Building, where the commerce committee held an informational forum on the bill.
And so, two years ago reSET was on the outside looking in, opposed by the state bar association on technical language in the bill. Last year the group was in the mix with its bill, out of luck when the clock ran out. This year reSET arrives at the Capitol as full-fledged insiders.