In an interview with Robert Braathe for Source of Innovation on bloktalkradio.com, Capital Region startup attorney Eric Leander of The Wagoner Firm tells it like it is. Learn about the clients he likes to work with, the need for more risk capital in the Capital Region and how Eric is stepping outside of his comfort zone as an entrepreneur to make a change.
Kirsh Helmets – Bringing Manufacturing Back to the States
The Wagoner Firm is a full service legal firm with a healthy client base. From seed and growth stage, to Series A and up to merges and acquisition, Eric and his partner, Matthew Wagoner, provide legal counsel to clients throughout the entire business lifestyle. One of Eric’s clients is Kirsh Helmets:
I haven’t seen a startup raise money this quickly before. Kirsh Helmets went public with their technology at 1 million Cups Albany, and within weeks they have over $100,000 committed. Their manufacturing partners are making investments, and the team is ready to rock. Don DeVito is an excellent leader, with a tight time schedule to get to market in the next couple months. And founder Jason Kirshon has invested a paradigm altering technology. A lot of times in the startup craze, people overlook the actual physical, but there are companies like Kirsh Helmets that have the power to make a substantial difference in the world. This will be a great success story for the Capital Region.
Bringing Risk Capital to the Capital Region
Square Peg Ventures evolved from Eric’s personal investments in startup companies and real estate in the Capital Region. While the Albany area has a couple invested angel groups and committed angel investors, Eric and Matt have been working with leaders in central NY to put together a fund for early stage companies.
The goal is to make sure inventors and entrepreneurs have access to quality capital from people who know what they’re doing. We’ve been speaking with Nasir Ali and Martin Babinec from Upstate Venture Connect about launching something like that here. A lot of our current funds focus on a particular geography, industry or type of investment. Square Peg Ventures would concentrate on if the deal makes sense. Because we’re not limiting ourselves, the fund will have the flexibility to invest in everything from startup companies to real estate.
Nobody In the Ecosystem Wants to Have Their Time Wasted
Eric and Matt both volunteer as mentors for various organizations across Upstate NY including IgniteU NY, StartFast Venture Accelerator and 1 Million Cups Albany. And with over 200 unique clients, Eric says he likes to work with people who are serious about starting and building a business.
I like to work with companies that have a level of sophistication among the founders, and who have more than an idea and who aren’t just in it for the money. That said, I don’t have time to flesh out a startup company’s idea. We’re more than willing to help, but when a wantrepreneur or contrepreneur wastes someone’s good will, it impacts the person that comes along afterwards. You’re ready to sit down with an attorney if you’re out of the dream state.
You Don’t Have to Have Clients, But Please Don’t Say This…
While words like “pre revenue” or “growing our user base” might be red flags for venture capitalists, Eric says a lot of his clients are early stage and he encourages it. He feels it’s important for startup companies to prepare their LLC, and all the documents that go along with starting a business, ahead of time to avoid legal pitfalls.
I want to make sure my clients are setup properly and structured to raise capital if that’s what their goal is. But what I don’t like to hear is ‘We’re the Uber of XYZ.’ That might be the concept in your mind, and a simplified way of explaining your business, but relating your company to another business, I feel, diminishes your brand. Your company is your company. It solves the problem that it solves. And it should stand alone.
Flipping the Switch on Building Relationship Capital
Startup Schenectady is a meetup group launched by Dave Dussault and Lorenzo Agnes of P1 Industries and P1 Ventures. It’s a networking event that built a lot of momentum out the gate by taking popular programs like Startup Tech Valley and changing the add value. Instead of focusing on the entrepreneur on stage (their company, and how people can help) Startup Schenectady makes the focus about the people in the audience. Through community projects, participants work together on ways to build the ecosystem – a process inspired by Brad Feld’s, Startup Communities.
Startup Schenectady is a passion project I’ve had on the back burning. I’d love to work with other ecosystem leaders to reactivate the meetup and evoke real change in our community. The idea is to have one topics a quarter that revolves around what Lorenzo calls, “ active or participatory networking.” We break up into groups to work on an idea or business that could improve life in Schenectady. This process not only gets people to think creatively, but it builds relationship capital. Think about it. I’m more likely to build a relationship with you if we’re working on a project together over having met you for 5 minutes at a typical networking event. Right now I have time to build content for a three month period. Then I’d like to work with someone else to plan the next three months, and so on to make this a sustainable program. I feel this is critical for the community. To not just educate entrepreneurs, but to empower and encourage them as well.
As Long As You’ve Learned Something, You Haven’t Lost Anything
Eric believes that before you take a risk, you need to take a chance. And if you want to start your own business and be your own boss, you need to have the courage to fail.
I think the Capital Region in general has a fairly low risk tolerance, and we are also very private about our failures. You have to be willing to take a chance – for the good of the community. If you have the courage to get out of your comfort zone to potentially make a change, you’ll undoubtedly learn something and won’t lose anything.
NEXT-> Eric was also featured on Source of Innovation in an interview with Kirsh Helmet’s Jason Kirshon and Don DeVito. Listen here.