Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP is partnering with the Ontario College of Art and Design to develop a legal clinic for Imagination Catalyst, its entrepreneur hub at the art and design school in Toronto.
Cassels Brock connected with OCAD through a venture capital firm it acts for called Relay Ventures and started meeting with Katherine Roos, executive director of Imagination Catalyst.
"We thought this accelerator needed a corporate business law firm because they are strong on the art product side and we thought because we are mid-market and entrepreneurial it was a good fit," says Jamie Firsten, partner at Cassels Brock who focuses on early stage financing for emerging tech companies.
The OCAD Imagination Catalyst incubator accepts startup applications from its alumni and creative sector entrepreneurs.
"From the moment an entrepreneur registers a business there are potential legal implications and I think it was important for us to find a partner to work with us to support them," says Roos. "We're trying to accelerate and ensure the long-term success of businesses so if we can offer a suite of services to help them overcome barriers earlier they will build successful companies faster."
Sometimes an entrepreneur with no budget will attempt to prepare seed funding documents by pulling them off legal tech websites and in future rounds Roos says investors often find they have some "messes that need to be cleaned up."
"This makes everyone's lives easier if they learn how to do it right from the beginning," she says.
Firsten says Cassels' involvement will help increase the the number of OCAD related companies likely to get funded.
"When someone starts a business they are just full-steam ahead on their idea. They don't usually spend the time or money to ensure the IP is protected properly. We're putting on our legal and business hat for them and saying, 'What is the least cost you can incur to get the necessary protection to keep you rolling to get you to series A financing?'"
Most of Firsten's work is acting for venture capital firms as well as mid-large sized tech companies. He says often when venture capital firms come calling the entrepreneurs with the great idea aren't always ready for the conversation.
"What we've noticed is to really provide value you have to get in and meet with these founders on a constant basis so the location of our office to OCAD is going to be really valuable," he says. "We're going to have legal clinic hours so people can come and speak to me or an associate and have a conversation about something that happened with their business that day."
Over the last few years several Bay Street law firms such as Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, Dentons, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP and others have been looking at how they can be a part of the startup field. By setting up shop at OCAD Cassels is hoping to provide on-site advice but also get first crack at the next Shopify or HootSuite.
"If you want to play in this space you need to jump in at the beginning of the spectrum and meet these people. If you don't meet them when they're just starting they will have established a relationship with a lawyer," he says.
Cassels isn't charging for the advice provided on-site at OCAD in the legal clinic but the hope is as they establish relationships they are the first thought when they look to decide on who will be the company counsel.
"We have a startup package which is a nominal amount of money to get the core essentials to get a business out of the gate," he says. "The hope is a couple of them turn into large Canadian businesses doing deals and raising more money."
Firsten admits it's a model that "requires patience."
"You just don't know where the next client is going to come from -- which company is going to pop, get money from a VC and turn into something bigger," he says.
But it can also become a source of deal flow for existing clients who are local venture capital firms looking for deals.