The program — called Nitro — is designed to provide about 30 to 40 emerging companies with legal advice geared to helping them grow their businesses.
“The reason for doing this is clear. Emerging technology is an increasingly more important part of the economy in Canada and it’s definitely going to be part of the future of Canada. Our existing client base expects us to understand emerging tech to know what’s going on, to practise in that space,” says Marc Shewchun, counsel at Blakes.
Rob Granatstein, the firm’s managing partner, said the program has been founded with “an initial [$1 million] worth of flexible and subsidized legal services to qualified emerging technology companies.”
Shewchun says the main barrier that emerging companies can encounter in trying to access high-quality legal services is cost. He says the $1-million investment is a way of subsidizing legal fees “to level the playing field.
“We are a big law firm. Our clients tend to be big, profitable corporations, and they pay us a fair amount of money to get the best. The folks in this space are starting out, they’re not the same kind of companies, and often, in their early, early days, are running their business out of their garage or their bedroom or some incubator space, and they have no money . . .” says Shewchun, who was an associate at the firm before working at three different tech companies and returning to Blakes in January 2017.
“[T]he primary purpose of Nitro is to be able to remove that barrier, to allow these companies to engage with us and for us to provide them the same quality of service and advice that we provide to all of our clients.”
Companies in the early stages of development can apply for the program online. Shewchun says that, in their early stages, software companies tend to be looking for legal advice related to intellectual property, such as patenting and patenting strategy, or wanting to trademark their brand.
They also may be seeking legal advice as they hire staff.
“The most significant need they usually have in their early stage of life is financing transactions, so when they’re raising money from institutions or private investors, they need assistance with having the right documentation, the formation of their company and the right documentation to make sure that they’re raising money properly,” says Shewchun. The program will begin by focusing on emerging companies in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor.
“The ecosystem in the Toronto-Waterloo region is accelerating rapidly. It’s at an inflection point where I’m sure in the next five to 10 years, people will look at this region as a world leader in emerging technology, that we will be on par with Silicon Valley in terms of the size and the maturity and the great companies that are coming out of the ecosystem here,” says Shewchun.