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Hopkins incubator pairs startups with lawyers pro bono

The Daily Record

August 27, 2017


When Nan Zhang decided to grow her company out of her alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, she knew to handle the science but not the business side.

Zhang is the CEO and founder of Vision Interchange, an online trading platform that lets people trade-in designer eyeglass frames. The site had a beta launch in November and has plans to go national. In order to do that, however, Zhang needed lawyers to incorporate her company, which could have cost thousands of dollars.

But as a member of FastForward, the incubator part of Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, Zhang was able to set up her company using counsel from a top Baltimore firm – and it didn’t cost her a penny.

Over the past two years, FastForward has been partnering with four of the largest firms in Maryland – DLA Piper US LLP, Saul Ewing LLP, Whiteford Taylor & Preston LLP and Venable LLP – to offer startups a range of agreed-upon services described as “startup in a box,” including formation documents, nondisclosure agreements and consulting agreements.

“Costs are something all startups are conscientious of,” said Mark VanderZyl, operations manager at FastForward. “They work hard to realize the capital that they have, so we’re hoping to offset those costs at the early stages.”

Each firm has committed to 20 hours of pro bono work per company. That includes 15 hours of corporate legal work and five hours startups can use for other needs at their discretion.

In addition, the firms also provide office hours at the incubator every month to let startups come in and ask questions or bounce off ideas.

Since the partnership’s inception, 37 new companies have used the law firms pro bono services, VanderZyl said.