Since starting to host free, monthly open office hours in June, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney attorney Francis X. Taney has met with nearly two dozen entrepreneurs he never knew before.
“Some become paying clients, some I never see again, but almost everyone walks away with some knowledge they needed, which is really the point,” said the Center City commercial litigation lawyer better known on Twitter as @ScaryLawyer. “The bigger, the stronger the pie in Philadelphia, the better it is for all of us.”
Corzo Center Startup Lawyer Open Hours:
- WHEN: Fourth Wednesday of the motnh
- NEXT: Jan. 25 6-8pm; Feb. 22 6-8pm
- WHERE: Corzo Center, University of the Arts, Center City
- HOW: @ScaryLawyer
(Which is a good perspective, as Technically Philly is hosting another startup advice open hours on Jan. 19, albeit more focused on investment than potential litigation.)
Taney’s effort started at the Corzo Center at the University of the Arts by answering questions from students who were mostly starting industrial crafts and other creative arts businesses. Now it’s grown into part lead generation and part giving back, he says, helping startups the fourth Wednesday of each month. The next opportunity will be Jan. 25 from 6-8pm.
“I’m typically very useful to people who are trying to figure out the legal bases they have to cover in launching a business, whether that relates to entity selection and formation, contractual and IP issues or other related issues,” said Taney, noting he has walked through actual disputes with young businesses.
One advantage of sitting with so many startups, says the South Jersey native and Cherry Hill resident, is that he’s been able to get a good sense of where the broad entrepreneurial community is headed in Philadelphia.
“You’ve always tended to see less of a bubble here, and that’s still the case” he said. “Nobody’s chasing the sizzle. They’re building businesses.”
Working on a decade with Buchanan Ingersoll and 17 years in and around Center City, Taney, who earned a Penn law degree after doing his undergrad at Drew University, says he sees a lot of incremental ideas –“not a lot of projects that are trying to cure cancer.”
Still, two decades of technology business growth — with a bubble burst in the middle — has created a community that Taney says most entrepreneurs he talks to have some interest in helping to build.
For entrepreneurial-minded Twitter users in Philadelphia, he is a familiar sight as @ScaryLawyer. How’d he choose that name when he joined in 2008 on the recommendation of fellow PANMA board members?
“I chose the name because I’ve often felt that some people are uneasy around me because I’m a lawyer; so it was an ironic response to that,” he said. “Little did I know at the time the various interesting people I’d connect with through that platform.”
Considering Taney has clients like Passyunk Square web design firm P’unk Ave and Headhouse Square e-commerce development shop Sumo Heavy Industries, while working around big corporate clients of the medium sized Pittsburgh-based law firm, his perspective has some value.
If Taney was in charge, he says that to continue to grow the perception and impact of the Philadelphia tech scene, he would focus on ‘the multiplier effect’ — the power of proximity to attract and retain talent.
“Startups in New York are taxed like crazy but they’re growing that community in a big way,” he said, noting that national press attention there can help. “The Nutter administration is a big improvement, I think, but we need to keep focusing on how density and perception of success brings more of it.”
It’s not that Philadelphia is without strong ideas that could fuel big business growth, he says.
“The ideas behind [startup accelerator] DreamIt NYC companies are no different or better than those at DreamIt Philly. There is just the feeling of more money there,” Taney said. “Or more specifically, the investment community here has different interests on the whole.”
Is it an education problem?
“No one is entitled to tell investors that they should be investing in a different area, but it can help to continue to introduce people with money in the western suburbs to the real businesses being built in Philadelphia today,” he said.
“With a train ride, you have access to the federal government in D.C. and the consumer-focused money in New York, but I see people building something different here,” he said. “Can they keep it special as it grows?”
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