Varnum's significant contribution will aid entrepreneurs statewide


Varnum attorneys and managers, all from the Grand Rapids office, who served on the committee to plan for the major donation: back row, left to right: Mark Allard, Partner; Steve Buquicchio, Partner; Managing Partner Larry Murphy; and Scott Hill, Partner; front row: Joan Andrew, Development Director; Tamara Bergstrom, Marketing Manager, April Sawhill, Associate; Carroll Velie, Director of Human Resources; and Harvey Koning, Partner. Not pictured, Grand Rapids Partner Daniel Molhoek, Kalamazoo Partner Fred Schubkegel, and Novi Partner Richard Hooker.


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

West Michigan is playing an increasing role in state economic programs, sharing the secrets of entrepreneurial success that have kept much of the area financially viable during difficult times for the rest of the state.

Now Varnum Law has stepped up to the plate with a one million dollar donation of legal services to help kick-start Governor Rick Snyder’s new Pure Michigan Business Connect project.

The new initiative, entitled MiSpringboard, will offer select entrepreneurs and start-ups free legal services over the next five years. Varnum’s Managing Partner Lawrence J. Murphy estimates this will entail assisting approximately 60 companies each year.

Murphy said that recommendations for businesses to receive services will come from a series of partnering economic development agencies, incubator and accelerator companies, and angel funds. Negotiations are still underway to determine exactly who those partners will be, but it is certain that the starting point will be the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

One million dollars is a lot of money but it is still unlikely to be enough to meet the needs of all the business startups in the state. Martin Dober, MEDC’s Senior Vice President for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, commended Varnum for its contribution and sent out the call for other companies around the state to join in revitalizing the state’s economy through helping grow the next generation of successful businesses.

“Companies helping companies will be how this gets done,” he stated.

Sara Wurfel of Governor Snyder’s office stated, “We’re very happy that Varnum has provided leadership in adding to the toolbox for economic gardening.”

A concept developed in the 1990s, economic gardening refers to investing in the people and ideas already found in the community, as opposed to “hunting” for outside companies to come in to the state, expending time and treasure to compete against other locations. Governor Snyder has long said that he sees a lot of potential in the economic gardening approach.

The governor and the MEDC launched Pure Michigan Business Connect on June 2. The program is based on a website (
-Connect/) that will facilitate Michigan entrepreneurs and small businesses connecting with each other, with potential investors, and with resources including the legal services offered by Varnum. There is a form on the site that serves to register companies and indicate their needs, which will also be part of the MiSpringboard website when that is up and running.

Pure Michigan Business Connect already offers purchasing programs, loans, and other business incentives from the State of Michigan, MEDC, Consumers Energy, DTE Energy, Huntington Bank, Stage 2 Innovations, Automation Alley and Export Import Bank.

Varnum does not intend to have  a special dedicated team for serving companies with legal needs. Partner Steven T. Buquicchio said when a company is referred to them, “We’ll do what we normally do.” He explained that all of Varnum’s 150 attorneys will be at the disposal of the start-up companies, so work will be distributed according to what attorney is best suited for the job.

The firm has offices in Grand Rapids, Grand Haven, Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Novi, but the services will be offered statewide.

Varnum attorneys’ vast expertise in such areas as business entity selection and formation, contracts, financing agreements, protection of intellectual property, compliance, employment law and immigration matters, website review and Information Technology contracts, and taxation issues will be provided on a complimentary basis. While the minimum amount of free services for each selected business will be $2500, Varnum management intends to determine the maximum case by case.
In addition, Murphy noted that the package also includes “targeted giving to universities.” As Buquicchio and Partner Harvey Koning explained, this giving would primarily come in the form of underwriting or supporting entrepreneurial events and competitions that identify future business leaders. An example, Koning said, would be the recent Grand Valley State University business plan competition.

Varnum management wants to emphasize that this will not take the place of existing pro bono work and giving, referring to it as “additive.” Varnum will continue its support of local community organizations and causes.

“Varnum’s generous donation is an impressive commitment to Michigan’s long-term future,” Governor Snyder said. “The firm is taking a proactive approach by rolling up its sleeves and partnering with us to create a positive climate that keeps our economy moving forward. This investment in Michigan will fuel our state’s drive to be a leader in the 21st century economy.”

States Larry Murphy, “This program is Varnum's commitment to take positive action to advance Michigan's economy. We’re very proud to stand side by side with Michigan businesses eager to grow our economy and put our state back to work.”

And  MEDC’s Chief Executive Officer Mike Finney adds, “What makes this particular program so powerful is that it removes an obstacle for dozens of startup and early stage Michigan businesses. Entrepreneurs can invest the dollars they would normally set aside for legal work in company infrastructure and jobs.”