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Social Entrepreneurship with Triple Bottom Brewing Company

Tess Hart

On November 10, 2021, Yale’s SOM Social Impact Lab welcomed Tess Hart MBA/MEM ’17, co-founder and CEO of Triple Bottom Brewing Company, one of only a handful of Certified B-Corp breweries in the United States. She shared her professional story, from her start working on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to her decision to study for an MBA and MEM at Yale, and the eventual launch of her socially-focused brewing company.

The Birth of an Idea

Shortly before starting her studies at Yale, Hart and her partner (in both senses of the word), Bill Popwell had come up with the idea to start a brewing company that had an overall focus on social good. While on a trip to South America, they visited several craft breweries, noticing they shared a lot of the same qualities as their counterparts in the United States, namely the communities they create and how these are served by the breweries. They realized then that a brewing company could be a platform for effecting change in a community.

Once at Yale, Hart left this idea in the back of her mind as she progressed through her joint degree program. At one point, a class assignment required her group to develop a concept for a business. She hesitantly shared her idea with her teammates who enthusiastically embraced it for the project. This then led her to explore the idea further and to dedicate more of her time at SOM to developing the foundations of a brewing company.

Triple Bottom Brewing

Towards the end of her time at Yale, and with a clear idea of what the company would be, Triple Bottom Brewing was born. The focus of the company would not be exclusively around profit margins but rather on a triple bottom line, which they defined as: Beer, People, and Planet. After securing the funding needed to launch the company, step number one was finding a place. They performed extensive research in order to find the ideal place for their brewing facility / taproom. Much aligned to their ethos, they were attempting to avoid the gentrification so commonly associated with breweries setting up in lower-income areas (because of space requirements). After finding a location in downtown Philadelphia, they went straight to work.

Beer: Although the company has a strong focus on social impact, they have not lost sight of the fact that their beer is what drives the company forward. With that in mind, Tess and Bill brought in a third partner, Kyle Carney, an experienced a brewer. When the three first met, Carney was immediately drawn to the purpose-driven ethos of Triple Bottom. He has helped the company develop the brand’s overall beer portfolio, which is focused on “beer that is balanced, flavorful, and eminently drinkable.”

People: Triple Bottom is a fair-chance business. They’ve partnered with local non-profits to recruit team members that may otherwise be excluded from the mainstream economy. They currently employ several team members who have previously experienced homelessness or incarceration. In this way the company generates employment in their immediate community while also providing opportunities for growth and development to everyone on their team, regardless of their past.

Planet: Making beer can be resource-intensive, which is why responsible brewing companies are concerned with their impact on the environment. Triple Bottom tracks their water, gas and electricity consumption constantly in order to set goals for reducing their usage. Currently all of their electricity is wind-powered, most of which is produced in their home state of Pennsylvania. They also work with local composters and farmers to make sure their spent grain is put to good use after the brewing process.

The Pandemic and The Future to Come

Like many businesses across the world, Triple Bottom was hit dramatically during the pandemic. Their business model was entirely focused on on-premises sales through their taproom. After lockdown, the business was left with virtually no revenue sources overnight. With the use of some innovative services, such as mobile canning and online-generated deliveries, the company was able to pivot to establish new revenue sources – which continue even as the taproom has reopened. Thanks to the flexibility this allowed them, they were able to maintain operations and keep their staff employed.

Hart’s experience resonated with the students. Her and her partners’ ability to stay true to their vision despite the crisis was inspiring.