Following B Corp month in March, I took the opportunity to reflect on the journey we’ve had as a member of the B Corporation, or ‘B Corp’.
A core part of our business model
It was Christmas 2014 and I had spent a lot of time reading ‘The B Corp Handbook: How You Can Use Business as a Force for Good’ (first edition). The title said it all – and I knew then, that this would be part of our core business. The book vividly demonstrated how shifting from a traditional business model and using business as a force for good, can help you attract and retain the best talent and distinguish your company. It showed that it’s not just about pursuing short term profits, but that a company’s ethical practice can be better for consumers, employees, local communities, the environment, and the company’s long-term bottom line.
The following September we had the opportunity to be part of the 2015 B Corp UK launch. However, 7 years after launching PKB, we still had many challenges, including closing our first multi-million pound contract and raising our first multi-million pound investment round. As it turns out, B Corp was a huge support.
Gaining the trust of our stakeholders
As the company that securely stores the data of millions of patients’ records, healthcare providers and governments at that time were very sceptical of technology companies such as PKB with data. This is a big part of the reason that Google and Microsoft failed where PKB would later succeed.
Although founded and funded as a social enterprise, with endorsements from UnLtd and Ashoka, we avoided any complexities of the legal structure of a non-profit organisation or a community interest company. Both prevented returns to investors, and there was no question that building the best technology would need significant investment. B Corp allowed us to lock our social mission – that ‘patients know best’ – into a profitable company with a global certification process that proved our ethical values.
Explaining our intentions as a B Corp company was a key part of our negotiations with our first big customers in 2015. It was also key to discovering which investors we should negotiate with. These customers quickly understood the type of company we were and that we would be in the future – and it was one they were comfortable doing business with. The reaction of Mark Evans, Partner at Balderton Capital, showed an investor who understood how to do well by doing good. He understood the importance of patients owning the data to gain the trust of the providers and governments. Such conversations are at the heart of stakeholder governance as a B Corp.
The first certification
These negotiations were happening at the same time we were going through our first certification process. As a team of 20, this was quite the juggling act to manage at the time – and in fact, that Christmas we almost decided that the strain was too much to contend with. There was lots of documentation to get right, and so much organisational development to accelerate.
That’s where the B Corp U.K. team in general and co-founder – Charmian Love in particular, were so awesome. They were keen on backing the companies they had found with the aim to make change happen in business, not to wait to certify it. Yes, we had some gaps, but they gave us lots of tools and advice, freely shared best practice company policies and introduced us to the experts. One B Corp has even developed software to calculate carbon footprint based on our account! Charmian put us in touch with them and they worked so quickly.
Overall, the B Corp team listened and Charmian was learning as well as teaching. During the 2015 certification, we lost points for not having a policy to support green transport for commuting. However, this was only because as a fully remote company there was no commuting as we all worked from home with no office to go to. We also lost points for not having a paper recycling scheme. Again, this was only because we had no paper and have operated as a completely digital company from the outset. The B Corp team genuinely listened and the subsequent certification improved from our feedback – for us and for so many others in the B Corp community.
A real community
It really is a community by the way. It’s always fantastic to hear from someone that is a B Corp member as you instantly know you are about to speak to a genuinely nice person that is doing a really good thing.
This is also great for recruitment. Great people want to work for great companies and increasingly, that means checking out the social impact and credentials of a company before deciding to apply for a job. Lots of people here at PKB are very proud to work for a B Corp company and six years later, the principles remain core to our values and operating model.
The future – Better Business Act
As more and more companies join the B Corp movement, we’re excited about the future and the positive impact we can collectively achieve. Last year, Patients Know Best joined the Better Business Act coalition because we believe the world needs every business at its best – creating good jobs, helping to fix pressing problems and adding value to society. This aligns with our company mission and values.
We joined hundreds of businesses calling for a straightforward legislative solution: the Better Business Act will amend section 172 of The Companies Act to ensure that company directors are responsible for advancing the interests of shareholders alongside those of wider society and the environment.
We are encouraged by the fact that the Better Business Act is a business-led campaign, driven by leaders who recognise that the law has fallen behind business culture and who have proven that this approach to business works for everyone.
We believe that the Better Business Act is a unique opportunity to demonstrate UK leadership on the global stage – creating a competitive advantage, driving innovation, accelerating progress to net zero, and aligning with the government’s ambition to build back better.
The world needs every business at its best – creating good jobs, adding value to society and taking responsibility for the environmental impact. As a B Corp company, we’re proud of our contribution to that mission.
Learn more about our B Corp story here.