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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Baking a Bigger Tech Pie: Startup Legal Garage Works to Serve Women and Minority Entrepreneurs

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From left, Shaherose Charania, Sepi Nasiri, and Nnena Ukuku, at their offices at Hatch Today in SoMa in San Francisco.

UC Hastings’ Startup Legal Garage is working to broaden the Silicon Valley pie to create more opportunities for women and minority entrepreneurs.

New community partners include Black Founders, Women 2.0, and Girls in Tech, each of which strives to bring under-represented players into the tech ecosystem.

The Startup Legal Garage provides corporate and intellectual property counsel to early-stage startup companies under the supervision of leading attorneys throughout the Bay Area, with some supervising attorneys as far away as San Diego and Washington, D.C. Students gain an in-depth understanding of the incentive structures that drive businesses outside of and in addition to the law; clients get high-quality legal services supervised by leading practitioners in the field. Founding partners include Hackers & Founders and the UC research incubator QB3.

Named Among Most Innovative Legal Programs

Students bring redacted versions of their deals into the classroom, which allows faculty to harvest hypotheticals in real-time and bring the teaching of legal doctrine alive. “We are teaching our students to be more than just the lawyer in the room,” said Professor Robin Feldman.

As part of the college’s Institute for Innovation Law, recently named as one of the 25 most innovative legal programs in the country, the Startup Legal Garage is working to serve a broader range of entrepreneurs.

“Traditionally, premier legal services are concentrated on a few companies with the right connections or funding,” said Charles Belle (@CharlesBelle), Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation Law. “The Startup Legal Garage has introduced an innovative model that provides premier tools to all clients, increasing their likelihood of success.”

Leading the effort for UC Hastings is Innovation Institute Research Fellow Nnena Ukuku. She launched Black Founders with three co-founders in San Francisco almost three years ago to increase the numbers and successes of black entrepreneurs in technology. She serves as its CEO. She met Belle at a Black Founders event hosted by Mozilla.

“Charles offered me an opportunity to do three things I could not say no to. I am able to interact with law students, give people within my community access to legal representation, and to help create connections between policy makers, startups, the legal profession and the public,” Ukuku said.

Looking for Unmined Riches

Nnena UkukuUkuku is a young super-connector and corporate lawyer on the go, named by Forbes magazine in 2012 as one of six women changing the venture capital world. From her law office at Hatch Today in San Francisco’s SoMa (South of Market) area, she keeps an eye out for promising young companies that need the legal counsel and guidance of the Startup Legal Garage.

“I focus on our community partnerships and relationships,” Ukuku said. “I’m looking for the unmined riches of women and minority entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley."

She works through partners like Women 2.0, a media company at the intersection of women, entrepreneurship and technology. "Our community is a mix of individuals working in tech and those starting tech companies,” said CEO and Co-Founder Shaherose Charania. “When it comes to resources and services, the entire technology ecosystem naturally operates through word of mouth recommendations.”

It’s the right mix of talent at the right time, Feldman says. Thanks to local payroll tax exemptions, Twitter and other companies have created a boom in San Francisco’s Mid-Market tech corridor, just a block from UC Hastings. Incubators like Runway at 9th and Market streets mean more companies are looking for assistance in their own neighborhoods, Feldman said.

“Just as San Francisco is evolving and attracting more tech companies, we are evolving to serve their needs,” Feldman says. “It’s a win-win-win for students, entrepreneurs, and the broader legal community.”

Go Further
Follow Ukuku (@nukuku) on NPR Dec. 19 on NPR and Twitter at #NPRBlacksinTech. Follow the Institute for Innovation Law at @DataDrivenLaw

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