For Tech Entrepreneurs, a Boot Camp without Pushups

Legal experts present information on basics, challenges of startups.

Attorney Mark Holloway spoke at the day-long workshop.
Attorney Mark Holloway spoke at the day-long workshop. (Photo: William Atkins)
March 02, 2015

Lawyers from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a firm headquartered in Silicon Valley, are used to being on the cutting edge of technology. They were the advisors who helped take Linux public in 1999 and Google public in 2004. Their current clients include Netflix and biotech giant Juno Therapeutics.

They came to George Washington University Wednesday to help tech entrepreneurs of the future—possible future clients—understand the world of business.

During a day-long, invitation-only “boot camp,” WSGR lawyers shared information about forming a startup company and met with faculty and student inventors from GW as well as entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from the D.C. area.

“This event has two purposes,” explained Dr. Steven Kubisen, director of GW’s Office of Technology Transfer. “One is educational, and the second is networking.”

“This is not to train faculty to be CEOs of startups,” he continued. “We want to introduce [faculty] to experienced businesspeople so they can partner to increase the chances that we’ll get their technology to the market.”

Presentations during the day covered the entire lifecycle of a company, from developing an intellectual property strategy to incorporating a startup.

Dr. Zhenyu Li, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said he “learned a lot” about the practicalities of startup foundation.

“I don’t have a background in entrepreneurship,” said Dr. Li, who has worked with programs like D.C. I-Corps to translate his developing diagnostic technology to market-readiness. “So [this program] is really very helpful.”

Mark P. Holloway, a lawyer with the WSGR firm who works with startups in several fields and made a presentation during the event, said the workshop was “an opportunity to educate the community.”

“Wilson Sonsini is really interested in supporting startup environments in pretty much every area we practice, everywhere we’ve got an office,” Mr. Holloway said. “Days like today are a chance to give people a very wide picture of startup law considerations—to help get them off the curb.”

The lawyers’ practical experience with the subject was uniquely helpful, said attendee David Helinski, a local entrepreneur in the process of assembling his own tech startup. “There was a lot of value just in the side notes—the attorneys were speaking about the challenges facing companies that they’re dealing with today, rather than just going through a slide show.”

J.S. Gamble, co-founder of Blu Venture Investors in Vienna, Va., said he attended in part to meet possible investees, but also because “I like to hear what advice is being offered to startup entrepreneurs” by on-the-ground experts like WSGR. “That way I know, when we meet with an entrepreneur, what the word on the street is.”

That information, Mr. Holloway said, is key to helping entrepreneurs at whatever stage they find themselves—from starving young innovator to CEO entering triumphant retirement.

“You hate to see people stuck in a bad deal because of information asymmetry,” he said. “We want [entrepreneurs to have] the same market data that an investor might have.”