Nutter's 'grants' establish foothold among startups
Boston Business Journal - by Lisa van der Pool Boston Business Journal
February 22, 2008
Photo - W. Marc Bernsau
Rick Treitman received a grant from Nutter soon after
starting Virtual Ubiquity.
Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP has borrowed a strategy
from the venture capital community by partnering with
promising startups as a way to develop future clients.
Three years ago the Boston-based law firm invested $1 million in its Technovation
program, a grant system that doles out free legal-service credits to fledgling companies.
"We're trying to identify these companies early on and partner with them at an early
stage, and hopefully stay with them for a long time," said Richard Kimball, the Nutter
partner who created the program. "It's marketing. Everyone who competes in this space is
trying to get out there and put a stake in the ground."
Since its inception, nine Technovation awards totaling about $350,000 have been
awarded to local startups. Unlike VCs, Nutter does not take a stake in the companies, but
hopes that the partnerships will bolster the firm's client roster -- even after the credits are
gone. Yet like VCs, the firm acknowledges that not all of the companies will follow a
successful pattern of garnering funding and going public.
"What we're trying to do is take the best guess at what companies are going to make it,"
Kimball said "It would be great to have every one of these companies do an IPO, but we
know that's not going to be the case."
Nutter looks for startups that have proprietary technology and a good management team.
The firm eventually helps startups protect intellectual property and negotiate the legalities
during funding rounds.
Virtual Ubiquity in Newton, which was acquired by Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq:
ADBE) last year, and software company uTest Inc. in Ashland are among the startups
that have won grants from Nutter.
"It's a terrific idea. Even if it doesn't pan out with one company, so many of these CEOs
are serial entrepreneurs," said Paul Clifford, a principal at Law Practice Consultants LLC
When Rick Treitman founded Virtual Ubiquity, a developer of word-processing program
Bzzword, he and his partners ran the business out of a friend's attic before they secured
funding. Soon after starting the business, Treitman won a grant from Nutter and
continued to work with the firm once the credits were gone. However since its acquisition
by Adobe, the company now works with Adobe's legal team.
"Since we had zero dollars, having the Technovation award helped us not have to dig into
our own bank accounts," said Treitman.
Nutter's program is unique among law firms, but it is not the only firm to stake its claim
early with local startups. Boston-based Foley Hoag LLP, for example, has sponsored
several local business plan competitions.
Lisa van der Pool can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.