Entrepreneurship Clinic helps students innovate

By Allana Akhtar, For the Daily
Published October 15, 2013

The University is a hotbed for innovation.

A co-founder of Google, the inventor of the iPod and the former CEO of Skype are all University alums. Plus, the University’s Office of Tech Transfer said last week that a record number of inventions — 421 — were born at the University in the past fiscal year.

And, in an effort to reach out to promising undergraduates, the University launched its Master of Entrepreneurship Joint Degree, sponsored by the College of Engineering, the Ross School of Business and the Office of Technology Transfer.

But University students, who continue to share business ideas and develop projects, may be unaware that there are numerous resources on campus to help them navigate the often-confusing legalities that come with starting a company.

The Law School’s Entrepreneurship Clinic, part of the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Program — also known as ZEAL — was created in January 2012 to offer legal guidance to University student entrepreneurs. So far, the clinic has already represented over 30 clients.

Common legal concerns of startups include forming a particular type of company, intellectual property issues and finance documentation.

The clinic was the brainchild of University alum Samuel Zell — ZEAL’s namesake and a major University donor — and Evan Caminker, dean emeritus of the Law School.

“Michigan is a very entrepreneurial campus,” ZEAL Director Erik Gordon said. “We have students from every college, undergrads, graduates, who are constantly coming up with new businesses — and they need help.”

For example, Gordon explained that students who start working together on businesses are usually unaware of the legal liabilities of their partnership. He said it’s important that students seek legal help so they understand what they’re getting into.

The clinic also provides opportunities for Law students to develop relationships with other students who could become their post-graduation clients.

Law Prof. Dana Thompson, director of the clinic, said the clinic allows students to go beyond the walls of the Law school and become immersed in the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” on campus.

“It’s a great opportunity for student venturers who are at the Engineering School or Business School or other schools to really see the importance of addressing legal issues as they’re setting up their company,” she said.

Along with the Law School Clinic, the Schools of Engineering and Business also have entrepreneurial clinics set up in their respective colleges to provide support services to current student entrepreneurs.

The clinic it also holds workshops at MPowered programs and the TechArb for general legal information and is currently developing educational materials.

Thompson encourages student entrepreneurs to attend office hours, which are “open to anybody on campus who’s an entrepreneur in figuring out a particular answer to a legal question they may have and we also provide general information about that legal topic.”

Office hours are held Fridays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at the Center for Entrepreneurship located in the Duderstadt Center and 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Zell Lurie Institute in the Ross School of Business.