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Elon Law alumnus strengthens state's entrepreneurial ecosystem

A passion for entrepreneurship has taken Mital Patel L’09 beyond his law practice in Raleigh, N.C., to conference rooms around the world—including the White House.

 Mital Patel L'09

The year 2013 was particularly memorable for Mital Patel L’09. After all, it’s not every year you get to make a presentation at the White House, ring the NASDAQ closing bell, meet Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak and take part in the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s been a fun run,” he says thinking back. “I’m probably forgetting a few things. My wife gets mad at me because I don’t think too far ahead sometimes. And I really just take it one day at a time. When you do that, I think you forget about how all this was crunched up into this past year.”

But don’t think his reluctance to recollect means he isn’t grateful for a series of once-in-a-lifetime experiences that were all wedged into just one year. “I’m blown away by it,” the Raleigh-based attorney and entrepreneur says. “I’ve gotten a chance to do some awesome things.”

His focus on what’s right in front of him might make it harder to look back, but it’s also part of what helped him arrive where he is. Patel owns Triangle Business Law, the boutique law firm he founded in Raleigh not long after he graduated as a member of the charter class of the Elon University School of Law in 2009. It’s not your typical law firm—and Patel is not your typical lawyer.

“The law school tags itself as a law school with a difference,” he says. “It’s about doing things differently. It’s about getting practical experience. It’s about being entrepreneurial … [and] thinking like entrepreneurs just as much as thinking like lawyers.” Patel does plenty of lawyerly thinking.

His firm handles business incorporation, contract reviews, intellectual property work and mergers and acquisitions. But clients can get that kind of service anywhere. “How we really try to differentiate ourselves is we try to be more than just lawyers,” he says. “We do a great job on the legal work, but we like to see ourselves as an extension of the management team in the business.”

In short, Patel builds businesses by building relationships. “I’ve always had a deep knowledge that business is more than just dollars and cents,” he says. “It affects lives.”

If anyone should know that, it’s him. Patel grew up in Morehead City, N.C., watching his parents run their own small business—a motel called the Royal Inn. 

He only got to watch for so long, though, because even at a young age, he became an active participant. “[I] had experience doing everything, from cleaning toilets to picking up phones to cutting the grass around the property,” he says. “I answered phones when I was probably way too young to do that. Luckily, customers didn’t know the difference.”

What Patel learned living and working in the family business along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast helped shape what now drives him to make the Tar Heel State and the United States hotbeds for entrepreneurship.

“Where I find my passion is rooted in this idea that entrepreneurship is the secret sauce of the United States,” he says. “On a bigger level, the thing that we’ve done best out of any country in the world is be entrepreneurial, and I think that’s what’s going to continue to get us out of the current recession. It’s going to be one of the things that continues to drive us forward in making changes in the world.”

Patel is doing his part to keep pushing in that direction. Not long after he graduated from Elon Law, he volunteered to revive the Triangle chapter of an effort called Startup Weekend. The program pairs entrepreneurs with mentors for a 54-hour boot camp that allows for discussion, design and development of entrepreneurial ideas. He even played a role in helping Elon University’s Doherty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership host a Startup Weekend event in November.

Patel, who studied computer science during his undergraduate years at N.C. State, also launched the North Carolina chapter of an organization called Startup America, whose goal is to connect entrepreneurs with the resources, ideas and clients to make their efforts grow. “One of the focuses of Elon Law School is to create lawyers who are leaders,” Patel says. “When I helped launch Startup North Carolina, I applied a lot of the things I learned about leadership at Elon Law to my approach to doing that.”

The success of that approach led to the White House event that kicked off Patel’s run of outstanding opportunities to further the entrepreneurship cause. He and a delegation of other Startup North Carolina members were invited to Washington to pitch and present on the state’s “entrepreneurial ecosystem.” They had an audience with the senior administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the country’s chief technology officer, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the acting director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In March, just weeks after the White House visit, Patel was off to Rio de Janeiro to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, which bills itself as “a gathering of startup champions from around the world.”

His meeting with Steve Wozniak came when the Apple Computer cofounder visited Elon University’s campus in early October to headline Fall Convocation.

The year 2013 also saw the national Startup Weekend and Startup America organizations merge to create a new champion of entrepreneurship called UP Global, in which Patel remains actively involved. In fact, in late October, UP Global included him in its contingent that rang the NASDAQ closing bell.

A steadfast belief that “net job creation comes from small businesses that are just getting started” fuels Patel’s desire to see startups grow. His hope is to keep his home state at the forefront of entrepreneurial culture and to see it climb out of the economic doldrums of the last few years. “For somebody who is from and plans to stay in North Carolina, I really take the approach that I’m going to be here for a long time,” Patel says. “Let’s try to build the business community up as much as we can.”

If there’s anything his whirlwind year, and particularly his trip to Rio, has taught him, it’s that he faces competition in achieving those goals. “The things that we’re doing locally in North Carolina and nationally in the United States to re-spark entrepreneurship—the rest of the world is doing the same things,” Patel says. “The silver lining for the United States is that, if you look at it athletically, we have more pure talent in entrepreneurship. But the rest of the world is going to the gym quite a bit.”

Patel is confident more entrepreneurial talent is in the pipeline for this country, particularly in the form of his millennial generation.

“One of the things that’s baked into what we are is that we want to change the world in some way,” he says. “In any way that we want to change the world as millennials and generations after that, it’s entrepreneurship—that’s going to allow us to do it most effectively.”

This story first appeared in The Magazine of Elon.

By Philip Jones

Keren Rivas,
2/20/2014 2:45 PM