Why law firm Ballard Spahr is launching a startup incubator - Technical.ly Philly

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Jan. 12, 2016 12:34 pm

Why law firm Ballard Spahr is launching a startup incubator

Attorney Greg Seltzer says it's not enough to offer free legal services. “Giving away legal time is BS,” he said. “Anyone can do that.”
Left to right: Ballard Spahr attorneys Terence M. Grugan, Brieanna A. Wheeland and Gregory L. Seltzer.

Left to right: Ballard Spahr attorneys Terence M. Grugan, Brieanna A. Wheeland and Gregory L. Seltzer.

(Courtesy photo)

Rookie startups looking for guidance just got another option in the accelerator/incubator department.

There’s DreamIt Ventures, there’s the Philly Startup Leaders accelerator and now law firm Ballard Spahr is getting into the game.

The Philly-based law firm with offices around the country is launching Project SING (Seed, Incubate, Nurture, Grow, that is), an education and mentorship program for early-stage startups. The program, which doesn’t take any equity or make investments, will offer discounted legal services, quarterly education sessions and connections to appropriate people. Each company will get a non-lawyer mentor, too. It’s a spinoff of the firm’s popular entrepreneurship program for student startups. (Side note: Can we talk about how cool and un-lawyerly the Ballard Spahr website looks?)

Ballard Spahr will take three to five companies and are looking in all their markets, not just Philly. It’s geared toward companies who are pre-seed or between seed and Series A. It’s not a good fit for companies that will need a lot of patent work.

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SING is Greg Seltzer’s baby.

Seltzer, 39, of Narberth, co-chairs Ballard’s emerging growth practice and represents local startups like Ticketleap, RJMetrics and Guru. (You might remember him as the guy who introduced Guru’s Rick Nucci to restaurateur Mike Welsh, leading to Nucci’s first angel investment in a bar/restaurant. Nucci actually helped Seltzer develop Ballard’s accelerator program for student entrepreneurs.) He was also the lawyer that Mayor Nutter hired to oversee the sale process for Philadelphia Gas Works, which eventually fell through after City Council nixed it.

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Seltzer wanted to help grow startups and it wasn’t enough to just give away free legal services.

“Giving away legal time is BS,” he said. “Anyone can do that.”

He also wanted to find a way to formalize the startup-attorney relationship.

Many times, he said, startups will approach him and say, “We want to work with you but we can’t pay you.” And if he believed in the startup (and that’s a big, important “if”), he’d cut some kind of deal with them. When he took over the emerging growth practice, he wanted to find a way to do away with those one-off deals, to make it easier for attorneys to work with promising startups.

“I believe in the startup market,” he said. “I don’t want to be turning people away because they can’t pay.”

We’ve seen other law firms make an effort to get involved in the tech scene (law firms like Morgan Lewis and Saul Ewing have been supporters of Technical.ly’s Philly Tech Week and Cozen O’Connor hosted DreamIt Health’s demo day), but this is the most robust programming offering we’ve seen. It’ll be interesting to see if other law firms follow suit.

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