Inaugural Law & Entrepreneurship Roundtable

Panelists speaking to a full audience at Villanova University’s Charles Widger School fo Law.

On October 3, the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law held an open roundtable series of discussion panels in the John F. Scarpa Center for Law and Entrepreneurship. To kickoff the event with the first hour-long panel, Professor Melanie McMenamin of the Law School moderated a discussion between Kristina Wahl of The Barra Foundation, Elizabeth Killough of The Untours Foundation, Marley Conley of Conley Fleming LLP, Omar Woodward of GreenLight Fund Philadelphia. This panel discussed the ins and outs of nonprofit entrepreneurship endeavors.

 

The second panel was focused on the financing of entrepreneurship through the exit process. This discussion was moderated by Professor Andrew Lund who also is the Faculty Director for the Center for Law and Entrepreneurship in the Law School. The panelists consisted of: Jeffrey Bodle, a partner of Morgan, Lewis, & Bockius LLP; Holly Flanagan of Gabriel Investments; Chris Hanssens, a managing partner at Eureka Growth Capital; David Luk, a principal at Safeguard; and Christopher Miller, a partner at Pepper Hamilton. The discussion started with Flanagan remarking on early stage investments and what firms like hers look for in businesses. It must: be launched with early traction, have already had financing from friends and families, have convincing early data points and metrics, be looking for .5 to 4 million dollars in capital.

 

Bodle interjected that one of the most important things entrepreneurs must do is it figure out if the investor they want to pitch to or network with is the right fit at the right time for the venture itself. He reminded entrepreneurs that relationships are formed when pitching, meeting at discussion panels such as this one, and being introduced to an investor through friends or advisors. From his experience, the classic error entrepreneurs make when pitching to investors is that they are unsure at which stage the particular investors invest in.

 

Miller from Pepper Hamilton noted that entrepreneurs that often get investing from his experience have their act together in 3 key areas: 1) who owns what in the company, 2) amounts of equity issued or promised and to whom, and 3) intellectual property owned. Adding on to those points, Luk mentioned various red flags investors see when entrepreneurs pitch to them. First off, investors find it a turn off when an entrepreneur jumps right into the pitch without building a relationship with the investors. Secondly, Luk reminded the audience that legal advisors are start-ups first professional advisor they utilize. Investors also look that the business has professional salespeople on board and has a platform that is successful and needs more capital. Luk compares what investors want to invest in as a machine that is built and running already and if they put in coins, they would get dollars on the other end of the production.

 

The complexity of capital structure changes was explained by Miller. He recommended that entrepreneurs meet with their financial advisor to better understand capital structure and the capital world they are entering. This includes obtaining and understanding a valuation of the company which acts as a starting point in the investing conversation. Most entrepreneurs don’t understand what the terms of investing contracts mean which can cause issues down the road. Finding an advisor that really knows the space the business is interesting in pursuing and acting as competent counsel is an integral aspect in a successful start-up.

 

To conclude the session, Bodle, Flanagan, and Hanassens left the audience Bodle emphasized the the investing world is full of different investors with different priorities and different goals in mind. Flanagan pointed out that taking accountability and responsibility for the start-up’s transactions is vital to ensuring financial integrity of the venture. Hanssens ended the panel with a comment that investors truly look to invest in ventures they believe will take on a different growth trajectory than would have been possible on its own.

Following this panel, the introduction of the Villanova Entrepreneurs Capital Club (VECC) was made by II Luscri, Executive Director of the ICE Institute at Villanova, and Terry Delaney, President of the Villanova Alumni Association’s Board of Directors. The third founder of VECC, Rich Avill, a member of Villanova University’s College of Engineering Advisory Board, was not present at the event. Luscri spoke briefly about the ICE Institute and its work across the scope of the university in all disciplines working to bring ideas to reality ranging from the next great mobile applications to academic curriculum. He then touched upon the alumni partnerships between the law school and the ICE Institute in the Scarpa Center, the law clinic, etc. These partnerships aid in the advancement of ideas across the university. Delaney then took over and spoke about harnessing the power of the “Nova network” and bringing it to the investors. Entrepreneurs need all forms of capital such as money, intellectual capital, relationships, and mentoring. He then promoted an on campus event in the Idea Accelerator, the venture showcase. He recommended those interested in attending events such as this one go to the ICE Institute’s website.