Varnum commits second $1 million in legal services to emerging companies

from Varnum sources
with additional notes by Cynthia Price

MiSpringboard, Varnum's $1 million commitment in free legal services to Michigan startups, is celebrating its five-year anniversary this month. Originally a five-year commitment, the program that has helped more than 200 emerging companies in over 60 communities across Michigan will be extended for another five years and another $1 million, the firm has announced.

“When we started the program, there was no data to suggest how well used it would be and no clear pathway to connect with the entrepreneurs who might make use of it," said Varnum Chairman Dave Khorey. "We just knew that despite the downturn in the economy, the startup community seemed to be expanding. We decided to help by providing some of the legal services associated with starting a business.”

Five years later, startups and emerging companies are a thriving segment of the economy, drawing the attention and support of public and private investment. Pitch competitions are held across the state, and nearly every large community in Michigan is home to a business incubator, SmartZone or other organization that nurtures new businesses.

The benefits of MiSpringboard participation are not limited to the companies and the public, however. “Working with entrepreneurs is exciting and their enthusiasm is contagious,” Khorey sais in an interview.
“Having a front row seat to some of the new products and technologies being developed and put to use... is  also exciting. Not only do our attorneys enjoy the work, but the entire firm enjoys hearing about some of the exciting companies we are working with. Part of the recognition of the fifth anniversary and renewal of the MiSpringboard program included an internal celebration.

“We featured daily stories about MiSpringboard clients on our portal and a trivia contest, among other things. It was fun to read about clients we've helped, many of whom
have products or services we are familiar with – Alter Cycle, Benefit Mobile, Birdhouse for Autism, Gluten Free Bar, FarmHaus Cider, COFFEEBOXX, etc.  That makes us all feel pretty good about what we're doing as a firm.”

Khorey also notes that, though there is no obligation to do so, about a quarter of the clients have continued to work with Varnum as their businesses grew. “We attribute this to the fact that they enjoy working with their attorneys and find the relationship to be beneficial and valuable, and we are very gratified by that,” he comments.

Varnum partner Harvey Koning, who works with clients in the MiSpringboard program, noted, “There are more resources available to entrepreneurs, including funding sources at earlier stages and more incubator and accelerator programs. For example, valuable resources like Start Garden did not even exist five years ago.”

Start Garden is the Grand Rapids-based organization which originally coordinated investments in start-ups as well as offering them services as they grew, which is now joining with the Grand Rapids SmartZone and eMerge West Michigan “to align the public and private sector around the needs of entrepreneurs.”

"Two of the greatest needs my teams consistently identify are: one, assistance with legal issues such as incorporation and intellectual property protection, and two, funding to cover legal services," said Ryan Gourley, Director of TechArb Student Incubator, run jointly by The Center for Entrepreneurship and the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.

“MiSpringboard is a one-of-a-kind program that addresses those needs in one fell swoop,” Gourley said. "It's wonderful that we have a resource like MiSpringboard here for our students, getting them the help they need and providing them the foundation to launch their businesses here and continue to drive Michigan's economic future."

Varnum attorney Matt Bower, whose practice focuses on emerging companies and who works extensively with MiSprinboard clients, credits emerging technology as a driving force in the growth of the startup industry.

“The growth in startup activity started with the tech community coming together in the form of meetups and co-working spaces to talk about what was going on and share ideas and resources," Bower said.
"Then there was a corresponding rise of early stage investors in the state, closely followed by the state's own investment in startups through grants and enhanced SmartZones. When you have a strong community, funding sources and support of the state, the entrepreneurs respond."

To date, MiSpringboard has worked with 220 companies across the state. Detroit and Ann Arbor have the highest concentration of clients with 33 each, followed by 24 in Grand Rapids, 10 in Kalamazoo, six in Novi and five in Battle Creek. The rest are spread across the state, including five in Houghton/Hancock area  and two in Marquette.

While the startup ecosystem in Michigan has grown tremendously, it shows no signs of slowing down, and Bower said technology will once again play a major role in future growth.

“One big changes has been the emergence of ‘Internet of Things’ - IOT companies; that is, companies that deploy sensors in the physical world to collect and exchange data through a software platform," said Bower. "Software companies are increasingly in the hardware and manufacturing business as well. The next phase is analytics – crunching that massive pool of data."

Another growth area we can expect to see has to do with advances in 3D printing.

Bower noted. “It will be fascinating to see how it shapes the industrial, biomedical, and consumer products in the next three to five years.”

To be considered for the MiSpringboard program, clients are referred by partner organizations including business incubators, Smart Zones, angel investors, state agencies, universities and entrepreneur programs around the state. Although services are tailored to fit client needs, typical legal services for the clients include company formation and operating agreements, employment agreements, vendor contracts, trademark work and licensing agreements.

There is more at

Subscribe to the Legal News!
Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more
Day Pass Only $4.95!
One-County $80/year
Three-County & Full Pass also available