Jennifer Garner is a lot of things: movie star, philanthropist, mom, the best thing Ben Affleck ever lost. But entrepreneur?
And yet there she was in November, a keynote speaker at the Strategic Growth Forum—EY’s annual gathering of entrepreneurs, investors, and business leaders, where the biggest stars in the room usually come from Silicon Valley rather than Hollywood.
I was lucky enough to attend on behalf of TCB and thrilled to cheer on Ryan Cos. and Anytime Fitness, our Entrepreneur of the Year nominees from the Twin Cities. Garner was there to join the club of disruptors and innovators in her new role as co-founder and chief brand officer of organic baby food startup Once Upon a Farm, which offers nutritious packaged foods at accessible prices.
This is no celebrity hobby: Garner’s partner is John Foraker, former CEO of Annie’s, the socially responsible certified-organic food brand, which he sold to General Mills in 2014 and continued to run until 2017. That’s when he met Garner and the two got excited about the chance to broaden healthy choices available to parents of all incomes. “You can’t just make fancy food pouches,” Garner said. “I go grocery shopping with moms. I watch them put together food stamps. They should have access to the same foods that I do. It means I have to learn about the supply chain. I go on every sales call.”
Delivering affordable, nutritious baby foods has become her mission, but it wasn’t the reason she decided to get into business after years of donating her time to causes like Save the Children, Baby2Baby, and the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
“I’m sick to death of asking people for money,” she said in that ballroom filled with more than 1,000 entrepreneurs (and me). “I decided I needed to be generating money. If we’re going to heal the planet, it’s going to come from business.”
That’s a sentiment shared by a growing number of companies today, small and large. And if they’re not thinking about it, they need to: 83 percent of millennials believe business success should be measured in more than financial performance, according to the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey. They want to work for companies with a purpose, and they want to do more than write checks to help.
“Business can have a higher purpose,” says Mark Reichert, regional sales director for Improving Enterprises, a technology management firm. He’s been working with the team that recently founded a Twin Cities chapter of Conscious Capitalism, an international organization that promotes service and philanthropy in the business community. Nearly 100 local businesspeople signed up for the first meeting in November. “It’s about leadership and community. You can do that at any level.”
Reichert introduced me to BTM Global, a systems integration company with 130 employees, headquartered in downtown Minneapolis. That’s where I met BTM founder Andy Huyhn, our reluctant cover subject. He’s not one to draw attention to his charitable acts—it’s just what he believes people and companies should do when they can. And he knows what it’s like to need help.
Huyhn and his sister arrived in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1982, when he was 13; his parents, who stayed in Vietnam, sent them there in hopes of a better life. The Huyhn kids lived with foster families and took their studies very seriously. Huyhn earned an electrical engineering degree at the University of Minnesota and worked for several software companies, including Retek Inc., which was acquired by Oracle. When he started his own company 14 years ago, he opened offices in Minneapolis and Vietnam, where his parents still live. And he immediately started helping orphanages there, as well as vulnerable children in the Twin Cities.
BTM Global employees don’t have to volunteer, but most do. BTM doesn’t play up its efforts, but so many friends and clients wanted to contribute that the company finally started a foundation in 2018 to accept donations for its efforts, which include Kid Promise, the nonprofit Huyhn and two of his BTM colleagues started to help children in Vietnam. And while those efforts do take some time away from the core technology services business, ultimately, Huyhn says, philanthropy is good for business. “Our business is all about people. We want our clients to be successful, and they know we’re helping others.”
In this issue, we’re pleased to turn the spotlight on more than 30 Minnesota-based companies and business leaders who are going above and beyond to give back. Their efforts are building parks and funding children’s programs. They’re providing meals and shelter and job training. They’re making the arts accessible and fighting climate change. They deserve recognition—and they prove that it is possible for companies of all sizes to do more than make money.