A New ‘Start’ for Entrepreneurs

Vancouver law firms are seeing the potential in the city's start-ups and are developing programs for them

ALEXANDER HOLBURN BEAUDIN + Lang LLP in Vancouver recently launched its SmartStart™ Program. With it, the firm will provide start-up clients “with a lawyer to walk you through all of the steps to get you up and running, from securing a company name and incorporation, to drafting standard agreements such as shareholder and employment agreements, to reviewing your commercial lease agreement, and much more. The SmartStart™ Program also includes six months of unlimited access to a lawyer to answer any questions you might have during the early days of your business.”

Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP has its own Start-up Program for Emerging Companies. “We draw on the full spectrum of Osler services, from IP and labour/employment to tax, litigation, regulatory issues and beyond. Even after an emerging company has become revenue-generating or completed a material financing transaction, we will provide legal services on, as much as possible, a competitive fixed-fee basis [instead of the traditional hourly rate model].” Although this is a firm-wide initiative, it was notably part of the strategy behind opening its Vancouver office in 2015.

These Vancouver lawyers are offering to share in the dream, in the hope that one or more companies such as Hootsuite (#hootsuitelife) will emerge as new clientele. Currently the most popular platform for managing social media, Hootsuite was created in 2008 by Ryan Holmes. He and serial entrepreneur Meredith Powell are also teaching the lesson that start-ups need guidance. Holmes and Powell, supported by contributors including Osler, have created The Next Big Thing, an incubator for 18- to 23-year-old entrepreneurs. The six-month program at Hootsuite’s Vancouver headquarters provides participants with mentorship and networking opportunities, plus a bursary and monthly stipend.

Part of the Next Big Thing’s curriculum will surely take place on the streets of Vancouver. Entrepreneurship is everywhere, and even non-tech businesses are tech-savvy. Hootsuite’s headquarters are designed with both a fishing lodge and Whistler in mind. Down the street is the equally design-forward 33 Acres Brewery (#b33r), one of several British Columbian craft breweries, whose owner has proclaimed that “brewers are the new butchers.” In a Hootsuite-authored article on Huffington Post, the brewery’s careful brand curation through its hashtag was commended. And the atmosphere at 33 Acres might look casual, but business acumen runs through it; 33 Acres founder Josh Michnik chronicled the design and building of the brewery on Instagram before it even opened.

As for the hashtag, one of the masters of the studied casual approach was Vancouver’s Lululemon Athletica for branding #thesweatlife, under which users can post photos of themselves whether or not they were wearing the company’s clothing. Herschel Supply Co., which makes classic-looking knapsacks and other bags, does the same with #welltravelled. Dish & Du/er, which makes chic yet practical “performance denim” clothing for those who want to “maximize performance without sacrificing style,” has #doitall.

These people know what they’re doing, which may owe in part to the reinvention they have undergone across sectors and projects. Before Hootsuite, Ryan Holmes owned a successful pizzeria in Vernon, B.C. Michnik and his wife were in the clothing business before launching the brewery. Serial entrepreneurs have a great capacity to begin again. Lawyers immersed in this city and tailoring a fee structure for this clientele can factor the tendency for re-invention into their risk calculation: If one business does not take off, another one led by the same people just might. In the meantime, lawyers will have developed trusting relationships with their clients, in which they have added demonstrable value.

Jean Cumming is the Editor-in-Chief of Lexpert, a suite of award shows and online and print publications published by Thomson Reuters.