More than Just a B-Day: Why we Decided to Become a Benefit Company

On January 1st, 2014, the State of Oregon became the 20th state to adopt benefit company legislation to recognize and protect for profit and non-profit companies that wish to act on other drivers than money.  On January 2nd, 2014, Aaron and I went into the Oregon State Office Building in Portland, Oregon to take part in making history to become one of 29 organizations to become a benefit company.  I never thought in my life that I would ever be so excited to walk through the doors and file a document with the corporation division.  Today was totally different, as we knew that we were a part of something much bigger…

The ceremony was deeply moving. A diverse crowd of nearly 50 people gathered to watch as 29 companies became a part of this landmark event (the record for most companies filing in one day upon state legislation going live).  Secretary of State, Kate Brown, initiated the inauguration with a very moving speech where she smiled frequently at us.  As other legislators and strategic partners added their excitement with their words and heartfelt messages, Eric Friedenwald-Fishman, from a company named Met Group, closed the speeches by asking attendees if they had seen the golden circle for Oregon in the lobby that said, Alis Volat Propriis.  He shared that it means, “She Flies With Her Own Wings.”  It was here at this moment, that this struck a very deep cord inside of me.  In my mind, I began to replay the story of Ingenuity.

Aaron and I were two of many that lost their path with the economic downturn and had our faith in many of the big systems (educational, health, economic, financial, food, religious, corporate, etc.) challenged.  The  “tried and true” recipes for “success” and “happiness” that had been handed down to us from our parents and grandparents didn’t seem to work anymore.

Nearly 50 people gathered in the inaugural event to witness the 29 businesses become acknowledged as a Oregon benefit company.

After my corporate success, I pursued my dream to leave the corporate world due to huge differences around my values and desire to make a world a better place.  I left Portland with my ex husband and bought a town in Central Oregon (Service Creek, Population 2).  I lost everything, (the town, my husband, my truck, my dog, my savings and my pride) but on the bright side, I did learn where bad country songs come from.

Aaron’s story was similar, as he took on building his own construction / remodeling business.  When the downturn hit, he too lost everything.  He returned to Portland and met me shortly after while he was working as a repairman.  It wasn’t much longer before his company laid him off.

Left with little income and a 300 square foot apartment above the Clinton Street Theater, we struggled to make ends meet.  Looking back now, the hardest part wasn’t the lack of money, it was the mindset of dealing with the despair and fear of falling further into a hole.  Day after day of no work coming through, we would watch as others in our neighborhood struggle with the same reality.  As much as we knew that there were systematic issues that were far beyond our control, the truth was that we felt absolutely helpless and that there was nothing we could do.

Secretary of State, Kate Brown, presents an inaugural certificate to Ingenuity Innovation Center.

One day, things took a different turn.  Aaron decided he wanted to make something to show that he had some answers that could in turn help benefit people’s lives.  We rounded up a small amount of money, and he began to work on building a device that amplified energy.  About a week later, he had a working prototype.  People from all over came to see what he had created.  He struggled to find the language to explain what it was doing.  However, it was clear that people who were open to the possibilities of what it could do were excited.  Those who had a discipline or academic knowledge in physics, energy, electricity, etc., were quick to dismiss what they saw even if the meters measuring the output said otherwise.  For those who did not walk out, they would tell him he needed to go to school, get a degree and then patent what he was potentially showing as a viable energy solution.

My background in human resources and organizational development left me with a sincere frustration as to what kind of quality students were being churned out from educational systems.  This, along with astronomical debt load that many people were incurring, didn’t seem to set well with me.  I encouraged Aaron NOT to go to school because I could see that the wonderful way he looked that world would be ruined.  There was a great deal of criticism that we both me by choosing that decision.  Instead, he chose to learn from other mentors, teachers and the internet.  His work around is passion of creating sustainable solutions began to inspire me and others.  It was here we wondered what would happen if we went out to find a place where we could bring the community together to build sustainable ideas, learn, connect and share.  Was it possible to help people build healthy businesses and lifestyles that benefit all versus a few?  This very idea gave rise to the Ingenuity Innovation Center.  We founded Ingenuity Innovation Center on November 13, 2012, soon after we moved onto 20 acres of land in St. Helens, OR.

Even though we had an idea of what we want this space to be, one of the major challenges was finding the right language that communicated what social, environmental and abundance-based models we wished to create.  We quickly learned that those from the traditional mindset of business wished to constrain our vision to purely a profit-driven model.  This seemed to be so counter intuitive to our model.  Many would try to help, but then become frustrated because we “weren’t clear,” are “scattered,” and “trying to take on too much.”  Given our start-up stage, that probably was true on some aspects, but we quickly noted that there were just some types of people that were not going to get the social aspect of what kind of community innovation could lead to ideas that would in turn create local-supported businesses and healthy communities.  We decided to continue forward by not leaving behind this critical part of our vision, even though the common language did not exist yet.  Deep down, we felt it would come and till then, we would just keep creating what we wished to see.  About 10 months later, we learned about benefit companies through B-Lab.  It was a huge discovery that led to a path we could wholeheartedly take that captured everything about what Ingenuity Innovation Center is all about.

We decided to become a benefit organization because is is tied to helping one another find our own wings so we can inspire others to find theirs.  We believe it starts with passion, curiosity and vulnerability.  We are now living in a world where our traditional systems are failing.  We believe it is up to each of us to decide what kind of life we wish to choose. Ingenuity serves as just one place to come together, connect and get support from our community.  We make it safe to blunder,  learn,  discover and create.  We show how sharing and collaboration will become another powerful currency and/or resource.

Inaugural Benefit Company Certificate

Using a triple-bottom line approach, each of the 29 companies will be responsible for showing how we add benefit to our communities by measuring our goals and actions using a 3rd party standard that will evaluate our impact on people’s lives, the planet and prosperity for all, versus a few.  Our results will be published on our websites so that our community knows what we are focusing on and how we are addressing our opportunities to make things better. Best of all, this provides a way for our community to learn and support organizations that are doing the right thing to make the world a better place.  Happy B-Day Ingenuity!

Written by: Kate Wildrick