Law and Small Business & Startups

Varnum pumps more funds into program for startups

MiSpringboard gives free legal services to qualified businesses across the state.

April 26, 2019
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Varnum’s MiSpringboard program has reached a milestone.

The program has provided free legal services to over 500 startups and second-stage businesses across the state. With its growing client base, the Grand Rapids-based law firm has invested $1 million into the program for the third time since it was founded eight years ago.

“When we started MiSpringboard in 2011, in the midst of the recession, the idea was to support and grow Michigan’s economy in the way we are best equipped to do: by providing legal services to new businesses, helping them start with a solid foundation and prepare them for growth,” said Varnum corporate attorney Matt Bower, who works extensively with startups. “Today, with over 500 clients served through the program, we are still amazed at the talent and technology being developed all across our state, and very proud to have a role in one of Michigan’s great success stories — the development of the entrepreneurial community.”

Some of the services the program provides to help entrepreneurs include entity formation, capital structure planning, licensing, intellectual property protection, trademark registration, state and federal tax planning and compliance, employment agreements, compensation planning and noncompetes, employee benefits and more.

MiSpringboard has provided services to a variety of industries, ranging from food processing companies to technology-based firms concentrating on software, app development, biotech and medical research, among others.

According to Eric Post, business and corporate attorney at Varnum, the program closely works with private investors, angel funds and business incubators to select the startups that could best use the free legal services.

“We work with at least a dozen referral organizations located across the state,” he said. “They include Lakeshore Advantage out in Holland, Start Garden here in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor SPARK in Ann Arbor, and they do a lot of the vetting for us in terms of who would be a good applicant for this program. They do a lot of the background vetting for us, and they refer who they deem to be qualified candidates for the MiSpringboard program and then we have our own review committee that looks at the (applications) on a case-by-case basis.”

Once entrepreneurs are selected for the program, they receive up to $2,500 in free legal services. Post said once clients reach the maximum of free services, the program will provide additional help at a discounted price.

One startup that began with the free service and now is a paying customer is Bamf Health in Grand Rapids. Founder and CEO Dr. Anthony Chang said the health care company focuses on AI-enabled, intelligence-based medicine through molecular imaging and molecular targeted radiation therapy.

Bamf is working to develop artificial intelligence equipment that allows for same-day diagnosis and treatment for cancer patients, as well as diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals for cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Chang said the MiSpringboard program helped establish the legal framework of the company and intellectual property protection.

“I think MiSpringboard is a great program, and also, I think it is a critical program for the entrepreneurial community in Grand Rapids,” he said. “Usually, when you think of a startup, it’s usually one person with a very specialized skill set or idea. But with a (company) startup, especially a high-tech company … you need to have the business knowledge, legal knowledge and financial knowledge at the very beginning. If you can get critical legal help without using your own capital to lay down the foundation, that is really critical in your success in the early phase.”

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