B Corp Clinic Gives Students Experience While Helping Businesses Achieve Goals

Tyler Helikson (left) and Matt Whitley (right) of Happy and Hale

Tyler Helikson (left) and Matt Whitley (right) of Happy and Hale

Like any effective manager, Poole MBA student Allyson Guay ’18 thinks about how to motivate the half dozen employees she supervises. And as with any responsible business owner, Matt Whitley wants to help his employees grow and feel empowered.

Through NC State’s B Corp Clinic, Guay and Whitley, who attended NC State, together are learning perspectives on maximizing employee performance and satisfaction. Guay and fellow students from NC State and other North Carolina universities help businesses explore or achieve certification as a B Corporation. Through a rigorous assessment and scoring process, the B Corp designation recognizes companies that emphasize making positive social and environmental impacts. The clinic, which is unique in the state, is a program of Poole’s Business Sustainability Collaborative.

In the clinic, interdisciplinary student teams help North Carolina companies with projects that address a range of B Corp objectives, from conducting an energy audit and measuring a supply chain’s sustainability to creating an employee handbook with expectations, benefits and resources.

This semester, Guay has led a team working with Whitley on strategies to enhance employee satisfaction at Happy + Hale, the Raleigh-based restaurant business he co-founded with Tyler Helikson ’07, a communications major. Guay’s team, which includes Poole Business Administration major Robert Doak ’18, researched potential benefits that could be most valuable to Whitley’s employees, such as subsidizing bus transportation to work, a gym membership, training opportunities and reduced-cost or free meals at work. The team also created an employee satisfaction survey for Whitley and researched employee compensation.    

“We’re throwing a lot of ideas at them and getting a bit creative, and they can pick ideas they like and then implement those,” says Guay, a manager at a Charlotte software company.

Through the clinic, Guay is gaining valuable insight on how to motivate employees, offer unique benefits to workers and process different perspectives. “I’ve been able to apply what I’m learning in real time,” she says. “It directly pertains to my current role.”  

As the project leader, Guay has made sure the team provides deliverables on time and that there’s good communication among everyone involved. “We’ve been able to dig in. It’s exciting to see the possibilities and how we can really make a difference for Happy + Hale,” she says.

According to Whitley, the team has made a big difference. As Happy + Hale expands to its fourth location, this time in Raleigh, he’s assessing how the growth affects the company. “It’s super helpful and right on time to have access to this team and these resources to create from,” Whitley says. He has used the 30-, 60- and 90-day employee satisfaction surveys NC State’s team developed to collect feedback from workers.

Guay’s team also created a spreadsheet to record Happy + Hale’s volunteerism. That provides “a structure to track the impact we’re having on the community,” Whitley says.  

Community impact is among his focuses as he studies the B Corp framework while his business expands. “How do we retain the essence of how we started, the connection to community and connection to Happy + Hale team members? You have to be super intentional about it,” Whitley says.

The B Corp Clinic is based on intentionality. Since its inception three years ago, more than 200 students have helped 32 businesses pursue their goals with the B Corp model.

Consumers and investors have become more intentional, too, as they choose businesses to support that align with their values. “More customers want to know the products they’re buying and services they’re using…were produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way,” Business Sustainability Collaborative director Jessica Thomas says. “B Corp certification says a company is the best of the best.”

As with investors and customers, a sense of shared values is important for Guay and Whitley in their clinic involvement.

Guay notes the leadership, project management and virtual teamwork skills she has strengthened through the clinic. But “The most enjoyable part is working with a real company that is looking for help in being a more responsible corporate citizen, a company that wants to make a real difference in their community,” she says.

“More than anything else, it’s being connected and realizing there’s a larger community of individuals and companies working to change the world,” Whitley says, “and you’re not alone in that, and that’s exciting.”

At a free lunch and presentation noon-2 p.m. April 27 at The Frontier, Guay’s team and students on the six other B Corp Clinic teams will give presentations about their work this semester. Students from Duke, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University also were involved. In addition to Happy + Hale, the aspiring and certified B Corps companies involved with the clinic this spring include Leaf & Limb, Litterati, Loading Dock, Lulu.com, New Kind and Southern Energy Management.

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