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The Seeds of Innovation in Happy Valley

Seedlings are delicate things. As anyone who has tended to a small garden knows, those delicate green shoots need just the right combination of water, nutrients and sunshine to survive. Forget one element, and they will shrivel away.

Likewise, neglecting one aspect of your startup business could be fatal. At the seed level, entrepreneurs perform a delicate balancing act between finding funding, developing the business and finding professional assistance. Discovering a fertile equilibrium is essential for successful growth.

When embarking on a new venture, you need to play by the rules. Understanding the multitude of laws and regulations involved in starting a business is one of the most important factors. Budding entrepreneurs are confronted with intimidating lease negotiations, forests of regulations and licensing requirements, intellectual property issues and piles of financing documents—just to name a few hurdles. Yet, at the seed level, many ventures can’t afford to retain the lawyers they need, let alone corporate attorneys at top law firms. To an entrepreneur, corporate attorneys can seem distant and impersonal, and may be ill suited to dealing with clients in the unique circumstances entrepreneurs they find themselves in. Fortunately, corporate law is quickly evolving to address the specific needs of entrepreneurs.

The explosion of innovation in the past couple decades has changed the dynamic between the entrepreneur and attorney. Barriers to entry have never been lower. Entrepreneurship is thriving as never before, fueled by the equalizing power of the internet. Entrepreneurs themselves tend to be younger and willing to take on more risk than in previous generations.

Law firms and attorneys are starting to notice that this new client class has unique and specialized needs that differ from traditional corporate clients. These clients may not be able to afford the billing rates traditional attorneys charge to large corporations, but they may want to trade equity for counseling in the early stages. Further, many pro bono services are becoming available to seed ventures, especially in the field of social entrepreneurship.

So how do these developments affect you in Centre County?

The story begins with Innoblue, a nonprofit business accelerator which helps new ventures get off the ground in Happy Valley. The program provides consulting, presentations, networking and funding possibilities for accepted ventures. The nonprofit envisions expanding to other college campuses throughout Pennsylvania, serving as the parent group that would oversee the student chapters. Innoblue @ PSU, the first student chapter, recently organized at UP and is already assisting four new ventures.

I joined the Innoblue team in November to help coordinate the nonprofit’s strategy and create a program to help new ventures gain access to legal resources. I soon realized the second goal could be best achieved by creating a separate organization devoted to entrepreneurs. With that in mind, I founded the Law and Entrepreneurship Project at Penn State Law with the help of other law students. The Law and Entrepreneurship Project is devoted to exploring the changing nature of entrepreneurial law and providing resources to entrepreneurial community. We plan on building up a network of law firms, attorneys and institutions to help connect local startups with the legal advice they need to get off the ground, as well as hosting presentations on the legal aspects of entrepreneurship.

Innoblue and the Law and Entrepreneurship Project are distinct groups, but they have a common purpose: fostering innovation in Happy Valley. Working together, we hope to promote economic growth at Penn State and keep the community a dynamic place to live and study.

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About the Author

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