Kate Emery founded Walker Systems Support in 1982, and since then has grown the
company into The Walker Group
- a company that is socially responsible and offers a variety of services. Kate was working as a senior software engineer at a large company when she decided it would be fun to start her own business. She had the support of her boss, so she decided to see if she could be successful on her own. She started out helping companies with PC networking, helping companies to connect their systems in the office. Over the years The Walker Group has added different areas of expertise. Now they work in five major areas; data center and cloud hosting, web and interactive services, security and disaster planning services, and technology advisory and CIO services; and IT staffing.
In the late 90s, Kate got uncomfortable with where business was going - she was seeing that businesses were overly focused on the bottom line and what was in it for their shareholders. So she started thinking about what she was doing with her company - could she run a business that wasn't just about the profits? Should she sell? She decided to take Walker and work towards being the type of company that could be a model for a different way of doing business. Making a profit is still important to the company, but it's a means to an end, rather than the end itself.
Walker re-articulated their articles of incorporation to include being fiscally transparent (share finances with their employees), having participative governance, being socially and environmentally responsible, and to distribute profits within the community (1/3 to employees, 1/3 to community, 1/3 to shareholders).
This was also the foundation to create reSET Social Enterprise Trust
, a non-profit that would help other companies learn about social enterprise and social responsibility. A social enterprise, or Benefit Corporation, is "a new legal entity for mission driven businesses that provides a higher level of legal protection, accountability, and transparency than existing for-profit entities. Presently, and historically, a standard business corporation’s focus has been to enhance shareholder value to the exclusion of other considerations. Straying from this narrow focus could subject directors to an action for breach of their fiduciary duty to the corporation. The benefit corporation is designed to accommodate a growing number of entrepreneurs and investors seeking a form of business that allows them to pursue an expanded mission that embraces societal good along with profits." (via CT Benefit Corps
Kate, Walker and reSET started on a new path to make social enterprise more well known and more accessible. "If you went to business school, you probably learned that the point of a business is to make money. We want to make people more aware that there are other models, and other reasons to start a business."
Kate thought, and continues to believe, that Connectiut is in a good position to be a hub for social enterprise. Connecticut has a lot of progressive institutions, a rich history of innovative ideas (first public park, first public art museum), and a lot of businesses and entrepreneurs. In 2010, a group of people came together to talk about social enterprise and about how to make Connecticut the hub. They set out with a few goals - to get the educational institutions to learn and teach about social enterprise; to get an incubator open so social entrepreneurs could have a community and get resources (which became reSET coworking); to get legislation passed so businesses could officially register their business as a social enterprise (succeeded in 2014, 26th state to do so); and to have investment dollars available for new and growing social entrepreneurs. They started an investment fund to provide grants, loans and investment for social entrepreneurs.
At this point, they're in a strategic planning process to figure out where to go from here, and thinking about specific areas that they could focus on to bring social entrepreneurs to the state.
Q - Where do you see the most oppotunities for social enterprise?
A - There are opportunities in pretty much any area. Think of Newman's Own. Their product, salad dressing and popcorn, doesn't really solve any issues, but all of their profits go to charity. A place like Firebox Restaurant in Hartford, they're a great restaurants and their profits benefit the Billings Forge Community, and through the restaurant they are giving job training to people in the community. But I do see huge opportunities in health care, prisons, hospitals.
"If you don't have grit, and intelligence, and good communication skills, then you might not want to start a business. But I don't think there is an entrepreneur gene. A lot of the most successful businesses I've seen have been started by groups, because then you have a lot of skills to rely on."
Thank you to Kate Emery, The Walker Group and reSET for hosting this great luncheon! To see all of the event photos, click here