(Justitia, the goddess of justice by Hans-Joerg Nisch via Shutterstock)
This article is sponsored by Saul Ewing.
You know what they say: the idea is the easy part.
Everything that comes along with putting that idea into motion (and turning it into a business) tends to be far more complicated. That’s why a little help can go a long way.
With this in mind, East Coast law firm Saul Ewing LLP launched its new RAMP™ (Resources, Access and Mentoring Program) initiative last month. Aimed at early-stage entrepreneurs and executives of emerging companies, RAMP will offer resources and events (some pre-existing and some brand new) to Philadelphia entrepreneurs.
Rather than adopting roles as lofty legal advisors, the lawyers within RAMP are interested in positioning themselves as partners and providers of guidance to startup businesses.
"We literally want to be like their partner a few doors down who just happens to have a law degree."
Two Saul Ewing leaders are spearheading the rollout of RAMP:
- Adam Kelson, a firm partner in Saul Ewing’s Pittsburgh office, is also the chair of the company’s technology and manufacturing practice group. As a leader within RAMP, he’s most focused on working with early-stage tech and manufacturing companies from the earliest idea stages all the way through their lifecycle, including financings and eventual exits.
- Debbie Spranger, chair of Saul Ewing’s business and finance department and life sciences group, is also a member of the firm’s executive committee. In addition to her work with RAMP, she’s also an active member of the tech and manufacturing group.
In an effort to bring the legal advice to the startup community, the firm recently acquired office space within the Drexel’s Innovation Neighborhood, a move that differentiates the program from any others. “Rather than having the companies come to us, we’re really trying to embed ourselves in their communities in every possible way,” said Spranger.
Lawyers participating in the program will also make themselves available for open office hours at One Drexel Plaza. Kelson describes these office hours as an opportunity for “entrepreneurs and people from the university community and beyond can come to get free legal advice.”
RAMP lawyers recognize that not every entrepreneur’s needs are the same, and they know how to adjust their counsel accordingly. “I think the nature of our relationship and what [clients] need from us may change as they get more experience along the path themselves,” said Kelson. “A first-time entrepreneur has different needs and different questions than one doing it the second time.”
As a result, sometimes the firm’s lawyers and the program’s clients form a mentor-mentee relationship, while other more experienced entrepreneurs simply need reliable advisorship over the course of their companies’ growth.
According to Kelson and Spranger, a handful of people on the Saul Ewing team also have strong professional experience in cybersecurity, life sciences and IT programming, which ensures the program is full of valuable assets for tech-oriented companies.
Those skills are no mistake, either — they are components of an active effort to integrate the program’s available resources into the community Saul Ewing aims to serve. “Part of immersing ourselves in our client’s environment is to really become a part of [their] scene as well,” said Kelson. “We’re not just parachuting in and out, we are spending time there which really does help.”
The firm will even be at Philly Tech Week 2016 in April looking to connect with future partners.
Spranger is most excited about the firm’s Investor in Residence (IIR) pilot program, which will connect entrepreneurs, especially new ones, with Revital Hirsch, an associate at a local venture capital firm.
“[Hirsch] has spent the last seven years doing nothing but reviewing business plans, executive summaries, cap tables and comparable deals for portfolio companies,” said Spranger. “She’s got a really good sense as to how potential funding sources value and evaluate early-stage companies.”
Three companies, all within different markets and at different stages of growth, will work with Hirsch for the next three to six months. The three participating companies are Pittsburgh’s Human Motion Technologies, LLC, Philadelphia’s LytPhage, Inc., and Baltimore’s Vedu.
Above all else, the purpose of the IIR program is to help emerging companies understand financial terms and navigate industry standards when it comes to negotiation.
For some entrepreneurs, more important than the firm’s legal services, added Spranger, is the ability to put young entrepreneurs in touch with the right professionals and financial sources who will add the most overall value to early companies.
“Most of all, what we think differentiates us versus what [other firms are] doing is that 70 percent of our business and finance lawyers actually have direct industry expertise,” said Spranger. “We’re business people first, so we can relate to these entrepreneurs on a very direct business person-to-business person level, and therefore give them the practical business advice to help them.”
Saul Ewing does not want fear of a hefty legal bill to discourage companies from reaching out for guidance, which is why RAMP works with participants to formulate fee arrangements best suited for their needs.
“It’s more than providing legal services to these companies — that’s such a small piece of what they actually need,” said Spranger. “It’s really surrounding them with a supportive, nurturing environment where they feel safe and comfortable to ask any questions, and to seek the guidance that they need.”