Calgary startup becomes corporate ‘unicorn’ with deal worth $1.1B US

In the business world, startups valued at over $1 billion US are called “unicorns” — and thanks to a rare and lucrative deal struck last week, Calgary is now home to one of these majestic creatures.

Tech firm Benevity has landed a $1.1-billion US deal with Hg Capital LLP, a British private equity firm that will buy a majority stake in the company.

And in what will likely become part of the company’s mythology, its founder and CEO, Bryan de Lottinville, and president, Kelly Schmitt, announced the deal to staff in style: dressed as unicorns.

“I am embarrassed to say that I did, but yes — together with my president, we donned a couple of fuzzy unicorn outfits,” de Lottinville confirmed to the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

However, it was an achievement he said was worth recognizing.

“It means a lot. For one thing, it’s tremendous validation of the acceleration of the importance of corporate purpose,” de Lottinville said. “And the appetite for companies to use their reach and resources and people to help solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.”

Sense of meaning

Benevity was established in 2008, when de Lottinville — who is described as a “recovering lawyer” on the company’s website — decided to go forward with an idea to reinvent corporate giving.

The company provides software solutions that help to manage charitable donations and grants.

The software is intended to efficiently extract money and volunteer hours from employees, and for the benefit of charities.

It also allows people and companies to address causes that matter to them personally, de Lottinville said.

And today, Benevity has amassed multinational corporate clients that include Nike, Coca-Cola, Google and Apple.

Benevity’s founder and CEO, Bryan de Lottinville, started the company in 2008. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

“Broadly speaking, we help companies help people be their best selves, by connecting them with a sense of meaning and purpose and impact,” de Lottinville said.

“We do that with the software platform that enables companies to engage their employees and customers around various types of social impact initiatives through giving time, talent, money, corporate grants — even purpose-driven behavioural change around things like sustainability, or unconscious bias, or diversity.”

Doing well by doing good

So what has led to Benevity’s success?

De Lottinville said timing had a lot to do with it.

But companies have also been embracing a broader responsibility for years, he said, and those trends have been accelerating.

“The real story is the people and clients and partners that we’ve attracted to a business that … has always embraced hybrid goals of profit and purpose,” de Lottinville said. “And enabled people to connect their work to a sense of meaning and impact that, hopefully, is flowing beyond their day to day, into the fabric of society.”

The result, de Lottinville said, is that Benevity has seen about 35 per cent of the Fortune 500 adopt its software.

“It is part of a larger trend toward, I think, this idea that doing well by doing good isn’t just a tagline. You know, it’s the future of business,” de Lottinville said.

With files from The Canadian Press and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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