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Law firm partners with startup incubator

December 24, 2014
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WMSTI rebrands as GR Current
GR Current in downtown Grand Rapids launched its brand with a rooftop event at UICA. Photo via

A law firm and a startup incubator for emerging tech companies will be partners in 2015.

GR Current in Grand Rapids said last week that it will partner with Varnum to provide legal services at a highly reduced cost for GR Current startups and a $25,000 sponsorship from the firm.

The partnership

Stan Samuel, director at GR Current, said the nonprofit is excited to have an organization from the private sector validate what they’re doing and offer a pillar of support in legal services.

“We want to be in a position, if we can, to provide all those things to our clients that then allows them to — not necessarily smoothly, but still efficiently — move forward in their development,” Samuel said. “This is one of those steps that allow us to do that. Usually, since we are dealing with high-tech growth companies, if you think about legal or tax and accounting or marketing, those don’t tend to be core aspects of what those companies do.”

Varnum’s partnership with GR Current will incorporate roughly 100 hours of pro bono work for startups that need legal services to help develop and grow their businesses.

GR Current startups can apply through the nonprofit to be referred to Varnum.

“Initially, as this is our first year of engagement, both parties want to see what will work out,” Samuel said. “We provide mentorship and advisory services to our clients in business development. If that company so happens to need legal services and that legal service will help them accelerate their business, we will probably have them engage with Varnum.”

Incubating startups

As a startup incubator with a focus on life sciences, GR Current supports entrepreneurial concepts as they develop into sustainable businesses.

Located in Grand Rapids’ Smartzone, the organization provides a number of resources to startups: fully furnished office space, wet labs and a network of mentors, coaches and partners. The nonprofit also provides additional space for startups at GVSU’s Cook-Devos Center for Health Sciences.

Public-private support

Funded entirely by the state of Michigan and the city of Grand Rapids, Samuel said services are entirely free to startups, and part of GR Current’s responsibility to the city is to show that the organization has sustainability in its programs. With current support at the state and local levels, GR Current looked to have the private sector involved in the organization.

“What we wanted to do is talk to private entities that would also benefit our client,” Samuel said. “On one hand, we are looking at private entities that would help fund our program, but also can come in and provide services to our clients. That is where our conversation started. They were really excited.”

Varnum is GR Current’s first 2015 programming sponsor.

Varnum and startups

The law firm is also involved in the startup space through the MiSpringboard program, which is designed to remove some of the barriers affiliated with starting and growing a business.

Varnum made a five-year commitment in June 2011 to invest up to $1 million in free legal services to businesses referred to the law firm by economic development organizations across the state, according to its website.

“Because GR Current is involved right in their backyard, they figured this would be a great way to be involved,” Samuel said. 

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