It’s a two-hour drive from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley. When it comes to supporting entrepreneurs, however, Kevin Xu ’15 knows the two areas are light years apart.
“The Bay Area has many business incubators, co-working spaces, and transactional attorneys to help fledgling ventures,” says Xu, deputy attorney at Berkeley Law’s New Business Practicum. “In the Central Valley, that infrastructure doesn’t exist. Entrepreneurs are left to wing it without legal assistance, with potentially catastrophic fallout for themselves and their families.”
The Practicum is bridging that urbanrural divide through a newly funded Startup@BerkeleyLaw initiative: Central Valley Ventures. Working with business accelerators at UC Merced and Fresno State, Xu, Practicum Director William Kell, and senior law students provide comprehensive legal services to Valley entrepreneurs of limited means.
They conduct monthly workshops in Merced on entity formation, intellectual property protection, and other common startup law issues, hold biweekly office hours by Skype, and will soon launch an online self-help resource library.
The Practicum began aiding Central Valley businesses in 2011. In October 2016, Berkeley Law and UC Merced pledged to co-develop a legal assistance program.
Two months later, the Practicum raised over $275,000, enough to expand the workshops and office hours to all of Merced and Fresno counties by 2018, and add two additional Valley counties each year thereafter.
Early success stories include Sweep Energy, a student-led venture at UC Merced that creates devices for monitoring energy usage in industrial machines.
“We helped the company navigate its entity formation, stock issuance, and IP protection,” Xu says. “Now, Sweep Energy is attracting considerable interest, winning pitch competitions, and gaining customers. The Practicum hopes to create many more successful Valley startup stories like this in the coming years.”