A new program in Calgary offers three free hours of advice to entrepreneurs and startups, in an effort to connect businesses to legal services they need to expand.
As part of the Kickstart program at Bennett Jones LLP, people involved in nascent businesses meet with lawyers who cover practice areas including corporate law, securities, intellectual property, information technology, banking, tax, employment, real estate, and litigation.
The firm calls this is a diagnostic consultation, and also provides a customized legal services plan for the business based on the meeting.
“We looked at what is being offered by large firms for startups and we saw an opportunity to provide a different kind of service,” says Karen Keck, a partner in Bennett Jones’ Calgary office.
Kelly R. Ford, an associate in the Calgary office, says the program started to take shape more than a year ago. Lawyers with the firm talked to a number of startups to find out what they needed most from a law firm as they built their businesses. The result was the program.
“We’ve seen startups get poor advice at the start of their business, and it’s disheartening to see them get started on the wrong path, and we wanted to provide them with high-quality advice that will help them grow,” says Ford.
The firm has teamed up with Innovate Calgary, VA Angels, District Ventures, and the Entrepreneurs’ Organization for the program. The program was designed after consultation with more than 10 representatives from startups, accelerators, incubators, and entrepreneurs.
“Entrepreneurs and startups have an opportunity to come and meet with us, which really helps us to develop and foster our relationship with them. After the consultation, we provide them with a report to help guide . . . what type of legal services they may require and then a Kickstart participant is then able to retain us, and we’ll provide the services we provide to all startups,” says Keck.
Ford says Kickstart is a “customized” and “bespoke” plan for startups and entrepreneurs on how to address any potential legal concerns. The firm then makes sure its fees are cost-effective and predictable for the client.
“The diagnostic consultation, and the report, they come at no charge,” says Keck.
“If we’re subsequently engaged to provide legal services, then we provide them at predictable rate to Kickstart participants. This is really the most important aspect of our rate . . . innovators have told us how important this is, so when they know what the cost will be up front, they can assess and budget effectively to work that into their startup plan.”
“When we were setting up the program, we went out and spoke with a lot of individuals in the innovation community and asked them, ‘What do they need? What’s important to them?’ and it really is budgeting,” says Ford. “When you’re working on an hourly model, they don’t have maybe a strong sense of how much it’s going to cost at the end of the day to get what they think they need done, done.”
So far, they’ve worked with startups and entrepreneurs in the energy sector, technology, retail, and retail distribution. They’d like to see the program grow and include people like social entrepreneurs.
Keck and Ford say the current economic climate in Alberta is not a barrier to innovation.
“We see that there’s an opportunity here. I think that innovation can play a meaningful role in the province’s recovery, and we really want to be part of that, on a national scale and provincially. I think the governments are interested in this, as well, and have stressed the importance of innovation at this time for Alberta,” says Keck.