Props to the B boys: Silicon Valley companies sweep global awards

Ali Partovi has shown a knack for a good idea. The Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur co-founded LinkExchange, which Microsoft bought in 1998 for $265 million; he then plowed some of that money into Zappos, run by his LinkExchange co-founder Tony Hsieh. And with his twin brother, Hadi (who co-founded TellMe), Partovi was a seed investor in thunder-lizards Dropbox and Facebook. Ali Partovi

But, Partovi told me recently, these days the angel investing scene is flooded with new money from Facebook and Google, so he and his bro are focusing on new ways to make a difference. Earlier this year they started Code.org, a nonprofit that aims to encourage more students to study programming. Its launch video, featuring Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, garnered more than 10 million YouTube views in a month.

This week, Partovi has been crowing about a new list of companies that are making an outsize social and environmental impact. The second annual “Best for the World” list, compiled by nonprofit B Lab, recognized 66 outfits around the globe. More than one in five of them are based in the Bay Area, outstripping every other region.

And the top score among those 14 local companies went to Farmland LP, a real estate fund that buys conventional cropland and converts it to organic, sustainable agriculture. (It also happens to be the one on the list that the Partovis, serious green-ag believers, have invested in personally.)

“What makes the Bay Area a natural leader both in tech entrepreneurship and in social impact,” Ali Partovi said via e-mail, “is our ubiquitous sense of hope and optimism.” That may sound a bit hifalutin, but the more time you spend talking to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors who have no financial reason to keep working so damn hard, the more you believe it.

Other area companies on the B Lab list included Sungevity, which designs and installs residential solar electricity systems; and Moving Forward Education, which provides tutoring and mentoring services for under-served students. (The full list is here.) UPDATE: See the breakout of Bay Area companies below.

The Pennsylvania nonprofit awards B Corp certification to companies that meet “rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.” More than 700 enterprises around the world have earned the designation, which B Labs likens to Fair Trade certification for coffee.

The stated goal is to help consumers discover companies that treat their workers, communities and the environment the right way. Or, as B Labs officials put it, to clarify “the difference between ‘good companies’ and just good marketing.”

UPDATE - Here’s the list of valley companies who got the nod:

Alter Eco Fair Trade, which offers a large range of exquisite Fair Trade, Organic and Carbon Neutral foods, and provides market access to small farmers.

Andean Naturals, which connects 4,500 quinoa farmers in South America with US food companies, facilitating the growth of the organic and fair trade quinoa market.

Bay Area Medical Academy, provider of job-oriented training in high-growth, high-demand areas of healthcare.

d.light design, a for-profit social enterprise whose purpose is to create new freedoms for customers without access to reliable power.

Emerge Financial Wellness, a workplace-based financial wellness program that partners with employers to help their workers plan their financial futures.

Farmland LP, a real estate fund that acquires conventional cropland and converts it to organic, employing sustainable agriculture and rotational grazing practices.

Give Something Back (GSB) Office Supplies, California’s largest independent office supply company, with giving back to communities integral to its core mission.

Little Pickle Press, a publisher of high quality, high impact media for children.

Moving Forward Education, provider of tutoring and mentoring services for underserved students.

Ned Schaub Consulting, Social Change Strategy, provider of sustainability planning, philanthropic strategy, retreats and workshops for organizations.

New Avenue, an online platform that sells architecture services, loans and construction to homeowners who want to add a second unit to single family homes.

One PacificCoast Bank, an innovative, triple-bottom line, community development financial institution.

RSF Capital Management, provider of investing, lending, and giving services that generate positive social and environmental impact.

Sungevity, a residential solar company that designs, installs, and finances residential solar electric systems.

Peter Delevett Peter Delevett (184 Posts)

Peter Delevett covers startups and venture capital for the San Jose Mercury News. He's been a journalist in Silicon Valley since the dot-com daze.