Elevating entrepreneurs at Elon Law
Warren Berry is looking to wean society off fossil fuels and combat climate change. And in doing so, he enlisted the help of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Clinic at Elon Law.
Berry is founder of GW Solutions, which is developing an energy technology powered by gravity. Last year, as he was trying to get the business up and running, he approached the clinic for help in incorporating.
“They asked me about what type of corporation I wanted to form, answered a lot of my questions and were instrumental in getting the LLC going,” he said. “There’s really no way I could have done it without them.”
His business is one of about 60 that the clinic has helped get off the ground.
Founded two years ago, the clinic is staffed by Elon Law students working under the supervision of veteran attorney and Distinguished Practitioner in Residence John Flynn. Among other things, they offer human resources advice, contract review and drafting, and guidance on incorporation.
“A lot of what we do is educating folks about what their options are, what their liabilities are, how to keep themselves protected,” Flynn said.
The clinic is part of Elon Law’s efforts to put a greater focus on business law said Andy Haile, associate dean of academic affairs and associate professor of law.
“We think North Carolina has real potential to be a national leader in entrepreneurship along with Boston and Silicon Valley,” he said. “And our goal would be not just to be a factor in Greensboro, but to also be able to help businesses throughout the state.”
The school has also sought to put more emphasis on what Haile terms “experiential learning.”
“Students can take the legal doctrine that they learned in the classroom and see how it actually applies in practice,” he said. “My own experience in law school was I took a class in contracts, but I never wrote a contract. I took a class in property, but when I first got in practice I didn’t know the difference between a deed and a deed of trust. And so we’re trying to avoid that disconnect between the study of law and the practice of law. Students who have been in this clinic will know how to set up legal entities.”
Twenty students have worked with the clinic over the past two years, including four this semester. Those taking part are expected to engage in 130 hours of work.
Jessica Richardson, who graduated from Elon Law in December, and took part in the clinic, said she liked the idea of helping people achieve “their lifelong dreams.”
“You speak with these entrepreneurs and you realize these businesses are everything to them,” she said. “It’s a huge source of pride to not only be able to own your business, but be successful at that business. And I really like how passionate entrepreneurs are about their ideas.”
Richardson said small business owners are trying to figure out how to raise money, how to get clients and just what sort of entity they want to be.
Joni Nichols, who also recently graduated from Elon Law, said one of the more important services the clinic provides is helping business owners understand what type of structure suits them best.
“There are several to choose from, like LLCs, S-Corps, C-Corps,” she said. “Before you file the papers, you need to know what the implications of each are and how they affect how you’re going to do business. There’s really an enormous amount of work in getting a business started, and being able to help in those beginning stages is very rewarding.”
Both Richardson and Nichols advised Berry, a retired high school science teacher and freelance photographer who lives in Elon. He began working on his energy technology six years ago, and is still trying to pull together funding.
“The machine I’m developing uses an input of gravity as a fuel source,” he said. “It’s not really complicated. The fuel source is really just the energy from gravity.”
Berry first found out about the clinic while attending a lecture on entrepreneurship at Elon Law, and soon set up an appointment.
“They were very responsive, answered all my questions,” he said. “And they really helped me avoid any surprises legally. There were some things I wouldn’t even have thought to ask about, like securities laws.”
Richardson and Nichols eventually helped him set up an LLC.
“I didn’t know what type of corporation I wanted to be, or even if I wanted to be a corporation,” Berry said. “They explained why an LLC would be a good way to go, and really helped guide me through that process.”
Nichols said among the most gratifying aspects of working with the clinic is seeing “people who want to try new things.”
“What Warren is trying to do, it’s really interesting, really innovative,” she said. “And that resonates with me a lot, seeing someone who isn’t stuck on the idea that the way we’ve done things is the way we should always do them.”
Elon Law Dean Luke Bierman sees the clinic as a reflection of the Law School’s overall focus on innovation.
“We want our students and graduates not only to help entrepreneurs, but also to be entrepreneurs in the creative ways they help clients and communities navigate change,” Bierman said. “The clinic is one opportunity to learn those skills, and Elon Law’s new 21st century curriculum is another example of doing things differently, and better, through an entrepreneurial approach. As we help our students and graduates to be the problem solvers of their generation, we also help Greensboro and North Carolina redesign a better tomorrow.”
Small business owners and entrepreneurs interested in using the services of Elon Law’s Small Business & Entrepreneurship Clinic can email firstname.lastname@example.org.