Benefit corporations (commonly known as B-Corps) are a relatively new—around a few years now in California—way of organizing your business entity. Designed to balance the for-profit interests of a traditional C-Corporation with the corporate responsibility that all modern businesses should take part in promoting. It’s like a for-profit-non-profit hybrid! Keep in mind, though, you don’t get the tax exemption benefits from the IRS (and your state) like you do with a non-profit.
But why would you want to go with a benefit corporation over a traditional C-Corp, S-Corp, LLC, or even a non-profit?
Before we get into the benefits of B-Corps, let’s briefly discuss how to form one and how they work.
Forming a B-Corp is essentially the same process as forming a normal C-Corp. Articles of incorporation filed with the Secretary of State’s office and you’re good to go. Of course, you can still limit director liability as you can with a regular corporation, but you also have to specify the corporation’s public benefit purpose. Filing fees at the time of this writing are the same for C-Corps and B-Corps.
After formation is where running a B-Corp becomes significantly different from running a traditional business entity. First off, the California B-Corp statutes require transparency in your business. This means you’re mandatorily required to report certain corporate records, generally on your company’s website.
Another big change is that a super-majority (more than just over 50%, generally two-thirds vote) of shareholders is required to modify your B-Corp’s public benefit purpose, and to make other various corporate changes. And if you’re a dissenting minority shareholder, you may actually have the right in certain circumstances to have your shares purchased from you at fair market value.
Benefit corporations are required to provide a reports to shareholders with reports detailing the goings on of the company and how they’re meeting their requirements to further their public benefit.
Finally, because this is a benefit corporation we’re talking about, your company has to advance a general public benefit. This means that your B-Corp must make a positive impact on society and/or the environment. Along those lines, there is a third-party organization, called B Labs, that certifies benefit corporations, providing them with a variety of extra perks upon certification. And that’s the real reason why benefit corporations are great—the perks that come with being a Certified B-Corp and the fact that your company is being used (albeit forced) to do good for society as a whole.
Which leads us to the question of how you choose between a traditional corporate structure, a benefit corporation, or a non-profit.
The main question that I ask my corporate formation clients who have expressed interest in benefit corporations is what they want out of their business. Are they purely interested in making a profit? Are they interested in promoting a public purpose? Or is it a mix between the two—and how weighted to one side or another is it?
On a very basic level, here’s how the answers to those questions tends to group my clients.
If you’re purely interested in making a profit or if you’re starting a technology startup and you know you’re going to be seeking venture capital financing in the near future, stick with the C-Corp (or S-Corp in certain circumstances).
If you’re purely invested in helping society and promoting a public purpose, then form a non-profit.
If you’re somewhere in between, go for the benefit corporation—or the lesser known Flexible Purpose Corporation if you’re in California.
So which type of entity is right for you?
When it all comes down to it and you’re in the process of starting your new company, how do you choose which type of entity to base your company around? The best way is to sit down and have a chat with a business attorney to help you sort out which entity is the best based on what you’re interested in doing. While I’ve provided a few questions above, it really comes down to a lot of nuanced, individualized factors to determine whether a B-Corp is right or an S-Corp is right. And that’s really why talking to an attorney is paramount—you don’t want to find yourself spending the extra money down the road to change your corporate structure.