UNC innovation hub lands Raleigh law firm Hutchison – here’s whyDate Published:
When UNC-Chapel Hill’s new innovation hub opens in 2023, it will serve as a place for entrepreneurs and industry partners from the University, local community and region to convene and create. One of those industry partners is Hutchison, a boutique law firm that embraces the entrepreneurial spirit and works with technology and life sciences entrepreneurs.
The innovation hub – which will offer a combination of private offices, coworking space, the Launch Chapel Hill startup accelerator and innovation services – is the only hub that will be located in a downtown innovation district that is immediately adjacent to a top-five public university. The new hub building also will serve as home to Innovate Carolina, the University’s central team for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development.
Innovate Carolina spoke with Hutchison managing partner Anna Tharrington to find out why the firm will call the innovation hub building home for its Chapel Hill location. Tharrington counsels entrepreneurs through various stages of the startup life cycle, including corporate formation, financings, mergers and acquisitions, and other general corporate and contract matters and works with venture funds and other investors that invest in growth companies.
TELL US ABOUT HUTCHISON AND HOW IT WORKS WITH INNOVATORS AND ENTREPRENEURS.
We’re a law firm headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, with satellite offices in Chapel Hill and Atlanta. When the firm was formed 26 years ago, our founder Fred Hutchison had a vision for a law firm that worked primarily with emerging growth companies in the technology and biotech/ life sciences industries, and we have stayed true to that mission. At our core, we still largely help companies in the technology and life sciences industries – and have become active in some other areas like investor-side representation. It’s pretty neat to be part of a practice where the founder had this vision so early on, and was such an early pillar in our entrepreneurial community. We’ve stayed true to that vision now for a quarter of a century and don’t see it changing.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT LEGAL ISSUES THAT YOU HELP STARTUPS, UNIVERSITY SPINOUTS AND TECH-BASED COMPANIES SOLVE?
We work almost exclusively with private for-profit companies, and so our world and vision is through that lens. We meet clients that are at all points along the growth spectrum. The founder may have an idea but hasn’t formed a company… all the way up to ‘I have a great company, and I’m looking to sell and need a firm to hit the ground running and help me do that.’
In this ecosystem, some of our “new” clients are actually repeat founders that have sold companies and are very familiar with this process. But for, our earlier stage companies, we tend to see two common “buckets” of issues in those early conversations. The first is around ownership of that company. Who owns how much of the company? How is it structured? Did the company implement vesting on its founder shares? The stock and ownership piece is typically a very big bucket of early stage counseling.
The second issue that pops up – and is equally important – is the bucket that we refer to as “intellectual property.” We spend a lot of time counseling clients in the beginning of our relationship, particularly first timers or early-stage companies, about taking the appropriate steps to make sure that the intellectual property of the company is actually owned by the company rather than the founders that created it. Much of that “IP” protection is handled through contracts. Some of it is done through filings (trademarks or patent filings). The IP bucket becomes a little bit more complicated when the university is involved – just in terms of spinning that technology out of the university into a company, making sure that everything is buttoned up in a way that works for the university and for the company and its founders. We sit on the company side of that transaction and help get that process taken care of for them as well.
WHY IS THE CHAPEL HILL INNOVATION HUB BUILDING A GOOD FIT FOR HUTCHISON? WHY DID YOUR FIRM DECIDE THIS WAS A VITAL PLACE TO BE?
Although our headquarters is in Raleigh, we recognize that our team is more spread out now than it used to be. Our Chapel Hill office opened the same year that Launch Chapel Hill was formed, and we were one of the original tenants in that accelerator space. During the pandemic, we continued to occupy one office spot inside Launch, and we loved being in that environment. Our practice is really well suited to co-work in accelerator spaces because a lot of the companies in those spaces are doing really innovative things, and having those organic touch points where companies can stop by and ask us questions is good for them but also really good for us.
Moving into the innovation hub is a great opportunity to get involved with the community and continue to build and grow relationships, while also meeting new companies that are coming into the space. That environment is dynamic, and there are natural opportunities to bump into folks. As much as a law firm can have an open-door policy in these spaces, we love it when people can stop by and ask questions and not be charged, that’s part of our give-back mission. The space meets our needs and also puts us into an environment where I think we work best and add value to the other tenants in the space.
INNOVATION HUB BUILDINGS ARE PLACES THAT BRING PROFESSIONALS FROM DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES WITH DIFFERENT AREAS OF EXPERTISE TOGETHER TO SOLVE PROBLEMS. WHAT TYPES OF EXPERTS WITH NEW AND DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT INTERSECTING WITH AND WORKING WITH IN THE HUB BUILDING?
One of the neat things about co-working in an accelerator space is that it’s never the same day-to-day depending on who’s in that space and who’s working there that day. Because there’s going to be more physical space in the innovation hub building, I think that magnifies the opportunity to meet interesting founders and other professionals. For us, one of the drivers is truly meeting the founders and the companies that are going to be in there with us. Accelerator spaces have a neat cycle of life – some companies mature and “graduate” out of these types of spaces, which is awesome and you want that for them. And, then another crop comes in, and takes their space. No day is ever really the same.
HOW DOES WORKING CLOSELY WITH THE UNIVERSITY – BOTH IN PHYSICAL PROXIMITY AND IN A COLLABORATIVE WAY – BENEFIT RESEARCH-FOCUSED ENTREPRENEURS, STARTUP FOUNDERS AND THOSE DEVELOPING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY?
One of the things about attorneys or accountants or other professional service providers is that we/they are obviously important and necessary, but our services can be expensive. And, for a lot of these companies, having to think about reaching out and engaging in a formal relationship with an attorney or accountant when you’re first starting your idea is a little overwhelming and expensive.
So, having space in the innovation hub building and being able to offer mentoring in an informal way to early-stage companies that are not ready to engage a lawyer is a real benefit. For us, that means that we can grab a coffee and chat about the issues that are important to the company or someone can swing by our offices to ask a quick question that’s been on their mind. Even providing a few minutes of guidance, while it doesn’t cost them anything, we’ve found that those types of interaction can be really helpful and perhaps even help put them on the right track.
When these companies have resources to guide them in the right direction, it can save them a lot of problems down the road. Having an office space in the building and being there consistently, and we do expect to be there consistently… if a company or a founder has a quick question on a Tuesday at 3:00 p.m., likely one of us will be there and they can swing by and ask. Having access to that type of knowledge and skills from a professional service provider… I would expect that to be really helpful.
WHAT MOST EXCITES YOU ABOUT WORKING OUT OF THE INNOVATION HUB BUILDING?
Aside from my personal desire for the Insomnia Cookies that are close by, the location is interesting because, if you’re thinking about being in the middle of all the excitement that Chapel Hill has to offer, where is the ideal place? It’s Franklin Street. The trick with that has always been, how do you put an office space in that premier location? From a sheer quality-of-life and working standpoint, it’s awesome to work on Franklin St. and be around the restaurants and shops. To be able to do that and also have a community that is working in the same types of technologies and things we’re interested in, that’s almost too good to be true for us.
The physical location of being central to Chapel Hill, being able to put our team members in a space with companies that are doing interesting things and to let them start getting involved in this community, it’s really exciting. We work quite a bit with life science companies that are spinning technologies out of UNC, and to actually be in the space with them and have the opportunity to work pretty close physically to a client is also exciting. We’ll be able to develop those relationships and work with companies that otherwise we might not bump into, especially in the post COVID world, in the way that we’re definitely going to in this new space.
THE INNOVATION HUB BUILDING WILL BE AN ENTRY POINT TO A FULL INNOVATION DISTRICT BEING DEVELOPED IN DOWNTOWN CHAPEL HILL. HOW DO YOU SEE HUTCHISON BEING PART OF THE WIDER INNOVATION DISTRICT DOWNTOWN? WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT IN TERMS OF HELPING COMPANIES ACROSS THE DISTRICT AND THROUGHOUT CHAPEL HILL SUCCEED?
We are excited about the growth of this innovation district. For us, it helps when we meet people that are interested in starting companies that are in this area. In other towns, people know where they’re going to go to meet and bump into others with interesting ideas that are working on companies. And in Chapel Hill, we’ve been trying to figure this out, but this is very clearly sending a signal. The heart of downtown is where ideas are going to grow. And pointing people toward a central location for that is going to be helpful for companies to start and form and stay in Chapel Hill, which has historically been a challenge for a lot of our companies. They outgrow an accelerator, and right now there’s nowhere else to go. So having the ability for companies to not only start up but to also grow and stay in Chapel Hill is going to be really good for the university and for the community at large.
And on our side, we’re equally committed to staying here. Not only because we have several attorneys that live in a ten-minute radius of the university, but because from a business perspective, it’s a great opportunity. There is a lot of innovative technology coming out of UNC, including a lot of great tech companies that are starting here. So when you combine public and private interest in a project like this, it gets really exciting. It’s great to be involved so early.
DID THE PANDEMIC CHANGE THE FIRM’S WORK STYLE, AND HAS THE COWORKING APPROACH BECOME MORE ATTRACTIVE?
When most folks think of a law firm, they picture people sitting in pretty bland offices and working in cubicles. But as a tech law firm, I’d like to say we’ve been “cooler” than that all along. We are more accustomed to remote working, because we work with clients in most states across the country and internationally. We’re used to working with clients and not seeing them physically, which is somewhat of a unique thing about our practice. So when COVID happened, it was a very easy process to get folks out of the office and online. We were well suited for the COVID challenge.
For us, the pandemic raised questions about the future of space and how our team wants to work. We’ve allowed continued flexibility through a hybrid work approach. For us, the coworking approach is something we had been used too, especially working from Launch Chapel Hill in the beginning and with our Atlanta office space. It was very much a plug-and-play office before it was cool. And so we were used to sharing in that way, and again, sort of ahead of the coworking stuff for law firms.
Being in those entrepreneurial spaces where that’s the vibe, we feed off that energy. We actually thrive in that environment.
The Chapel Hill innovation hub is slated to open spring 2023 and is currently accepting inquiries from those interested in private offices, coworking or entrepreneurial services. For more information about the hub and innovation district, visit innovationhub.unc.edu. Next in the series: learn how the hub will help generate economic development opportunities in Chapel Hill.
Original Article Source: WRAL TechWire