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Innovation & Startups

What entrepreneurs need that lawyers have got

Pittsburgh entrepreneurs looking for legal advice are getting help through two programs that are initiating a collaborative legal model for growing companies in the region.

Innovation Works' is offering AlphaLab companies legal services through a new program called AlphaLaw, which partners the legal services of Cohen & Grigby with the AL startups, helping them surmount legal obstacles that might otherwise slow early company growth.

For many startups, the cost of legal services often becomes an impediment to progress, explains David Kalson of Cohen & Grigbsy and the creator of AlphaLaw. Kalson approached Jim Jen at Innovation Works about developing the program at a very low cost to the firms.

"This is something that we're very comfortable doing because Innovation Works is very skilled at the art of pre-screening for the best companies," says Kalson. "This is good for the companies, good for my firm and good for the region."

"This offers tremendous value to the AlphaLab companies as it provides them critical services at a time when they need it the most," adds Jim Jen of Innovation Works.

University of Pittsburgh's Innovation Practice Institute is working along the same lines, but taking a slightly different approach in assisting the growing entrepreneurial sector.

IPI is under the leadership of a new executive director, Justine Kasznica, a former Philadelphia attorney who came to Pittsburgh by way of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon. Kasznica, who took over the position previously held by IPI's founder Max Miller, is especially sensitive to the legal needs of technology companies. She hopes to expand the reach of IPI by connecting law students with entrepreneurs who can benefit from assistance.

"Pittsburgh is very unique in that it offers this fertile soil for emerging and developing companies," says Kasznica. "There is a constant growth of ideas here. We believe it's critical to have lawyers participate in this emerging economy."

IPI's mission is to serve the students through the creation of collaborative opportunities. By reaching out to groups like IdeaFoundry, the Technology Collaborative and others, the region can create a model for legal assistance that's similar to ones in Silicon Valley.

"That's the kind of model we really want to grow in Pittsburgh," says Kalson. "I'm so happy to see it emerging."

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: David Kalson, Cohen & Grigsby; Justine Kasznica, Innovation Practice Institute

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