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University of Wisconsin Law School’s Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic—in partnership with University Research Park, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and local entrepreneurs—is launching a summer accelerator program to help 11 promising entrepreneurs get their companies up and running.

The program offers a big boost to participating startups: each receives free legal advice and mentoring, office space, and up to $10,000 of seed funding to develop their business. The funding, made available by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, will be disbursed in increments as clients meet pre-determined benchmarks. In-kind contributions have also been secured from sources including the Bradley Foundation, University Research Park and gener8tor, a Madison and Milwaukee-based startup accelerator.

The new accelerator, called Madworks at Campus, employs a method called ‘lean startup.’ Lean startup theory helps projects avoid depleting scarce resources early on. Using the theory, entrepreneurs will develop a baseline product, evaluate marketplace forces, identify early financing and find other team members—all over the course of a summer.

“This project is not for the weak of heart,” says Anne Smith, L&E Clinic director. “We’re expecting a full-time commitment on the part of our entrepreneurs.”

Winning proposals, selected from a pool of nearly 70 applications, demonstrated that they had undergone early stage problem-solving and have a deep-seated passion for their idea, she says. 

Smith sees the accelerator as a win-win for the L&E Clinic: it fulfills the clinic’s dual mission of helping set businesses on the path to commercial viability, at the same time it increases the value of a legal education for students. Students begin working with the startups in the 12-week program this month, continuing on with them throughout the year.

“This program offers our students a more sophisticated way of understanding all the challenges faced by early-stage businesses so they’re in a position to help clients find the resources they need,” she says.

Six years into the L&E Clinic’s launch, co-founders Smith and Eric Englund have learned that entrepreneurs need more than legal advice to keep their companies profitable. They say the accelerator program will allow the clinic, which now provides free legal services for upwards of 250 entrepreneurs and small businesses a year, to offer clients a more comprehensive array of services.

It’s a long-view approach to meeting clients’ needs that helps the clinic progress, too, Englund says.

“We’re really interested in helping the next generation of Wisconsin businesses evolve—in creating an environment where entrepreneurs will stay here with their businesses,” he adds. “In our soul, this is about helping the communities of our state grow.”

Submitted by Law School News on June 19, 2014

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