B Corp Trailblazers: A Law Firm Blends Entrepreneurship with the Greater Good
Jan. 8, 2019
As Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial landscape matures, drawing more wide-eyed innovators to Gig City, USA, these young businesses have a growing need to protect the products and services they create.
The familiar phrase used here is “intellectual property,” or IP for short.
Chattanooga’s disruptor businesses are often propelled into the marketplace by unique ideas or one-of-a-kind properties, such as software, that give their creators a leg up on their competitors. And if these differentiators (read: intellectual property) are borrowed or stolen by others, chances are the entrepreneur who originally devised them wouldn’t be able to successfully compete.
Enter Ridgeline Venture Law (RVL), a Chattanooga law firm specializing in the protection of intellectual property, and whose staff have deep roots in the entrepreneurial world.
Bye, California (Hi, Tennessee!)
The founder of Ridgeline Venture Law is Kevin Christopher, a renaissance man of sorts, who, after 10 years navigating the San Francisco Bay area’s “laidback rat race,” began looking for a new home for his practice and his family.
“My wife and I ... began exploring other areas, (each one) with a mix of the outdoors, arts and startup scenes like Bend, Oregon; Fort Collins, Colorado and Santa Barbara, California,” Christopher says.
But Chattanooga won their hearts ... fast.
“We were blown away by how active people were in bettering the area in so many different categories — conservation, diversity, arts, economic development, tech, education, sustainability — we were invigorated by the city and wanted to jump in.”
Jump they did, launching Ridgeline Venture Law in 2017 and quickly growing it to a team of five.
B corp take on legal work
Sure, Chattanooga has many alluring qualities, but the one Christopher is attracted to the most is the shared spirit of, as he puts it, “bettering the area.”
It’s that same ethos that drove Kevin and the RVL team to seek out a unique distinction; not just rare in Chattanooga, but the state as well. RVL is the only law firm in Tennessee to become a Certified B Corporation (B Corp). There are only five total B Corps in Tennessee, and just one besides RVL in Chattanooga.
What’s a B Corp? Great question.
B Corps are businesses that emphasize both profit and purpose. The official B Corp website states that leaders at these businesses are “legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.”
You hear the phrase “triple bottom line” a lot when reading up on B Corps. What that means is that their leaders focus not simply on the financial bottom line, but on their social and environmental impact as well.
These businesses consider the greater good, “bettering” (Christopher's phrase) the world around them.
Entrepreneurship an excellent B Corp opportunity
While it’s not impossible for established businesses to adopt B Corp principles, it’s typically easier for upstarts to work them into the foundation of their enterprise at, or before, launching.
Christopher says that “the benefit corporation is an attractive entity structure for social entrepreneurs and companies that want to embed environmental or social concerns in their DNA.”
What’s more, if those matters are woven into the legal fabric of a startup in its early stages, they can be protected as it grows. For instance, as Christopher explains it, “if in scaling you want to prioritize certain employee benefits or supply chain practices, the benefit corporation structure could shield you against later attempts by investors to abandon these priorities in the interest of higher monetary returns."
Chattanooga as a perfect B Corp fit
So, it all starts to make sense, then, why RVL fits well in Chattanooga.
This is a town committed to finding ways to improve itself and the lives of those who call it home. It’s also a place that attracts more entrepreneurs by the week, each testing new ideas in hopes of leaving their imprint on the business world.
It’s this overlap in the Venn diagram that provides a rich opportunity for RVL to promote B Corporation ideals. After all, while building a business that could perhaps change the world, why not structure that business to ensure it makes the world a better place?
It’s hard to think of a concept more in tune with Chattanooga’s heart than that.
David Martin is a co-founder of Heed Public Relations.