One of the University’s most generous benefactors has made a new gift to support the establishment of a clinical entrepreneurship program at UNC’s School of Law.
The program aims to provide hands-on training for public-spirited law students while filling gaps in North Carolina’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.
In addition to the Kenan Trust’s $1.53 million commitment, the N.C. General Assembly recently appropriated $465,000 in recurring funds to support the program.
“We are thrilled and inspired by the investment in the education of Carolina students that the Kenan Trust and the people of North Carolina, through their representatives, are making,” said Dean Martin H. Brinkley ’92 (JD).
“Clinical education geared toward organizational clients, and the business and social entrepreneurs who establish them, is important to large numbers of our students,” he said. “The new entrepreneurship program will help [the school] embrace its mission by fulfilling dual goals of teaching and service.
“With this generous gift from the Kenan Trust and additional support from the state, we will be able to provide an invaluable experiential learning opportunity for approximately 30 students a year while serving several times that number of for-profit and nonprofit entrepreneurial ventures each year.”
The program expects to serve business and social enterprise entrepreneurs at UNC and N.C. State, in partnership with UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and NCSU’s Poole College of Management, as well as the innovation and entrepreneurship infrastructures on both campuses.
The law school also intends to identify one or more economic incubators in underserved parts of North Carolina that the entrepreneurship program can support.
In addition to providing educational opportunities for law students, the program aims to fill the one consistent gap across all startup settings: a lack of access to legal counsel.
Legal advice for early-stage businesses and nonprofits, which typically have limited resources, can be hard to find. Observers say that, to control costs, some entrepreneurs never consult a lawyer, which can expose a new business or nonprofit to various risks. For clients of the program, these risks should be lessened.
The state recognized the benefits of the proposed program and chose to show its support through a $465,000 appropriation. “Connecting the world-class legal community at Carolina with business professionals in the startup economy is a win-win approach to higher education that will prepare law students to succeed and provide valuable legal resources for emerging companies in our state’s rapidly growing economy,” said House Speaker Tim Moore ’92.
The program is expected to kick off in 2019-20. An official name will be determined with input from current students.
“The Kenan Trust has always focused on the needs of the communities it serves and education is the foundation,” said Douglas C. Zinn, executive director of the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust. “We recognize that student education doesn’t just happen in the classroom, and we are excited to support the entrepreneurship program that will train law students while strengthening North Carolina communities and the state’s economy.”
The trust was created in 1965 from the estate of William R. Kenan Jr. (class of 1894). The trust and related Kenan entities and family members — eclectic donors across the campus, from chemistry and business to music and athletics — comprised the single largest donor to UNC’s last major fundraising drive, the Carolina First Campaign, committing nearly $70 million. The University’s current fundraising campaign — “For All Kind: The Campaign for Carolina” and the most ambitious fundraising campaign by a university in the history of the state — has a goal to raise $4.25 billion by Dec. 31, 2022.
The funding for the clinical entrepreneurship program will support three interwoven legal clinics at UNC’s law school: a for-profit ventures clinic; an intellectual property clinic; and the school’s existing Community Development Law Clinic, which is a longstanding, successful nonprofit social entrepreneurship clinic.
Each clinic, which will be supervised by a full-time member of the school’s faculty, will train eight to 10 law students per semester. Students will counsel business founders on the advantages and disadvantages of various business entity structures, form appropriate entities, draft organizational documents, capture and license intellectual property assets, and seek tax-exempt status for community based nonprofit organizations.
North Carolina is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s top five places to start a new business. Because of the entrepreneurial culture of Research Triangle Park and the business schools and entrepreneurial initiatives at area universities, the institute aims to serve a pipeline of clients from potential partners across the state.
“This gift and challenge from the Kenan Charitable Trust will catapult UNC School of Law onto the cutting edge of legal education,” said Larry Robbins ’74, a partner at Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton who, in 1979, also earned both his MBA and law degrees from UNC.
“From my own experience representing clients in mergers and acquisitions and startups, there is a great need for legal advice at the earliest stages,” Robbins said. “My hat is off to the Kenan Trust and the N.C. General Assembly for recognizing this need for an entrepreneurship institute and for funding it.”