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Technology transfer group assists Phoenix innovators


September 11, 2008

A technology transfer group that helped Arizona Technology Enterprises bring Arizona State University's scientific discoveries to market has turned its attention to assisting Arizona's innovators and entrepreneurs.

The Arizona Technology Ventures Services Group (TVSG) was launched as a new and enhanced effort by ASU from its predecessor, the Technology Ventures Clinic at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. The TVSG will now direct the energy of ASU's entrepreneurial student body toward a goal of diversifying Arizona's economy through the incubation of small technology companies. Under the supervision of professionals, students in the group will provide essential services to the region's innovators, entrepreneurs and small businesses during their critical, yet fragile, start-up phases.

The changes are a win-win for the 22 students who represent law, business and engineering disciplines at ASU and are enrolled in the inaugural, semester-long, for-credit course, and for entrepreneurs and others on the path to making their ideas a reality.

"I couldn't be happier about the spectacular growth and evolution of this initiative," said Paul Schiff Berman , Dean of the College of Law. "The TVSG is a prime example of how we at the College of Law are remaking 21st century legal education at the New American University. Through this group, we extend legal education into the broader community, contributing to Arizona's economy while training the next generation of entrepreneurially minded and tech-savvy lawyers."

Eric Menkhus , the TVSG's director, described the new program's goals as a hybrid of education for students, affordable services for entrepreneurs, and economic development for Arizona.

"I've been talking to a lot of service providers, attorneys and others, who say that there are a lot of really interesting new ideas here in Phoenix; however, compared to other large cities, there aren't a lot of people here who specialize in turning ideas into businesses that are attractive for funding and, subsequently, high growth," said Menkhus, an Associate Clinical Professor at the College of Law. "Furthermore, the 'idea people' often lack the funding to hire professionals to fill in their various knowledge gaps. This is the niche we plan to fill."

The TVSG is housed at SkySong, ASU's center for innovation in Scottsdale, and is made up of two student groups. The Technology Ventures Legal Clinic, comprised of second-semester, second-year law students, as well as those in their third year, will provide services for business formation, employment issues, licensing and other agreements, limited patent work, and other intellectual property issues. The Technology Ventures Consulting group, consisting of mostly graduate students from outside the law school, will offer market research and analysis, technology and supply chain assessments, financial model creation, implementation planning, leadership team analysis, and other business planning services.

"We want to build a critical mass of small businesses that are fundable and poised for growth," Menkhus said. "There's nothing like the TVSG, that I know of, in the United States that involves the breadth of students we have and provides the cadre of services that we will."

The program is part of the Entrepreneurship at ASU initiative and is being funded via $40,000 from the Kauffman Foundation's $5 million grant to the university. Additionally, Hool Law Group, Ltd. has stepped forward with financial support and become a community partner of the TVSG.

Menkhus recently named Phoenix attorneys Michael Hool and Jennifer Lefere and "The Idea Gardener" Tom Fulcher as mentors to the TVSG students. Menkhus said their expertise and passion for entrepreneurship and for working with students is a big plus for the group.

"Michael and Jennifer bring a wealth of experience addressing the legal needs of start-up ventures and will provide invaluable guidance to the students as they work on transactional legal work that they often aren't fully prepared for in law school courses," he said. "Tom also brings great enthusiasm and experience in the critical areas of business planning, market analysis, and strategy formulation. With the skills these professionals bring to the TVSG, there aren't too many issues we can't handle for our clients."

Hool, of Hool Law Group, practices law that is primarily focused on corporate and commercial representation, securities, finance and venture capital, mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance matters and counseling emerging companies. Hool, who has represented ASU through its Arizona Technology Enterprises in launching companies and with technology transactions, said he is pleased to be part of a venture that will nurture emerging businesses while leveraging the interdisciplinary skills of students.

"This is a very valuable contribution by ASU because Arizona has many companies that launch and just need support at the early stage before they have the funding to hire the best professional advisors, which has proven in many cases to be the difference between ultimate success and failure," said Hool, a 1988 alumnus of the College of Law. "Creating the TVSG further demonstrates ASU's commitment to supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in new and innovative ways. I am particularly excited to lend my assistance to ASU's effort as I see how exuberant the students are at helping real companies with real issues."

Lefere, an attorney at Hool's firm, focuses on the areas of intellectual property, Internet regulation, commercial transactions, corporate matters, mergers and acquisitions and financing transactions.

"By providing students with an opportunity to work directly with active companies and having professionals involved to advise the students, the program educates students with real-world experience and benefits the community by providing legal and business advice to clients that otherwise may be unable to afford these services," Lefere said. "I anticipate that the graduates of this program will be ready to actively contribute in a meaningful way to all types of business ventures."

Fulcher, who has a management degree from ASU, has extensive experience in business development and marketing consulting for start-up, small and large firms. He is co-owner of Discovery Treks, an ecotourism company, and chief operating officer for a technology start-up, and he recently served as a chief executive officer of an Internet firm.

"I am truly excited to have the opportunity to work as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence with the TVSG," Fulcher said. "In my business, I enjoy helping entrepreneurs define and realize their dreams. As an ASU alumnus, I am proud of the effort to reach out to and assist technology entrepreneurs. It will be personally rewarding to assist my alma mater, mentor top students as they develop new skills, and collectively contribute to the growth of entrepreneurial efforts in the community."

Carrie Thompson Jones, a third-year law student and former entrepreneur, said being involved in the TVSG will help prepare her to start, grow and enjoy a successful business venture, whether as a lawyer for clients or as her own boss.

"At the TVSG, law students are exposed to business students and to engineering students, and we are all here to collectively learn from each other, `rounding out our understanding' and developing the entrepreneurial ventures that will come through our doors," Thompson Jones said. "In the process, this multidisciplinary approach to small business and entrepreneurship will give us the skills to navigate the world at large."

Menkhus said the TVSG will engage with clients that are in high-growth, technology fields and that are either unfunded or under funded. Only clients referred by ASU's Technopolis office, referrals from the Hool Law Group, Edson Ventures, and/or SkySong-affiliated companies will be accepted.

For more information about the TVSG or to learn more about how to become a client, go to http://law.asu.edu/techventures.

Janie Magruder, Jane.Magruder@asu.edu
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law