MiSpringboard, the Varnum program that provides free legal services to Michigan startup and second-stage businesses, reached a milestone recently when it surpassed the 500 client mark. The firm also recently committed a third tranche of $1 million to the program.
In the seven years since MiSpringboard was launched, Michigan entrepreneurs involved in industries ranging from biomedicine to beekeeping have used the program to get their businesses off to a solid start and ready for growth.
“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.”
While the original MiSpringboard plan envisioned a $1 million commitment over a five-year run, that commitment was renewed with a second million in 2016 and a third million this year.
Attorneys who work in the program are advocates for Michigan’s growing entrepreneurial community. In addition to serving individual clients, they hold office hours at business incubators and co-working spaces, present educational programs for entrepreneur organizations, and travel across the state to work with regional Smart Zones and other economic development groups.
“We have a big network out there among the universities, the accelerators, the tech transfer offices,” said Varnum partner Rick Manczak, who works with venture capital and private equity funds in addition to startup clients. “We’re able to help people get plugged into the right resources fairly quickly.”
Other entrepreneurial support organizations across the state have expressed appreciation for Varnum’s efforts.
“Varnum and the MiSpringboard program have been an unbelievable asset and partner in helping TechTown Detroit support, grow and service a wide variety of startups, across multiple verticles in our network,” said Paul Riser, managing director of Technology-Based Entrepreneurship for TechTown Detroit. “I think that the MiSpringboard program has not only been amazing for our clients, but I believe it’s served as a model for a number of organizations who are pouring into technology-based economic development by working more intentionally with early and growth-stage startups.”
To date, Varnum’s 500 MiSpringboard clients hale from more than 100 cities around the state, from Marquette to Ann Arbor. A large segment are technology-based businesses, including software as a service companies, mobile app makers and connectivity-based platforms. Others are involved in medical research, biotech and electronics. Still others are in such disparate industries as transportation, tutoring and food processing.
To get into the program, clients are typically referred through one of more than 40 referral partners based around the state, from the MTEC SmartZone in Houghton to co-working spaces like Bamboo in Detroit. Clients who receive legal services through the MiSpringboard program are under no obligation to stay with Varnum once their grant is exhausted, but many of them do. About a third become paying clients of the firm.
Bower said the work is invigorating because the companies are interesting, but even more than that, entrepreneurs are just enjoyable and energizing to be around.
“It’s being able to work with companies and entrepreneurs who don’t have a lot of fear, that are willing to go out there and really push the envelope on their technology and disrupt markets,” Bower said. “It’s just fun. The technology is great. It’s just something that’s really, really exciting.”