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Written by: My Toronto on November 21, 2017

michael hyatt

A law firm founded in 1856 may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about tech innovation, but Toronto-born Blakes wants to change that perception.

It’s why Blakes decided to bring on Michael Hyatt as its first-ever entrepreneur-in-residence, which will be a credibility boost to the firm that launched its Nitro program for startups in June.

The Nitro program — which currently has 21 startups — earmarks $1 million in legal services from senior lawyers, which is key for startups that are often overwhelmed by building their products.

“To build a company takes a village; there’s not one thing that works. There’s still a gap in knowledge in what to do to optimize traction.”

“I think founders find when they’re three to five years into the company, they wish they would have done certain things from a very early time. They wish they had the right cap table. They wish they had the right share structure and shareholder agreement,” Hyatt said. “Startups are running so fast they ignore all that, and five years in they’re running into some trouble because they’re not documenting the right things, or they gave away equity poorly to founders not even in the company.”

With two exits behind him — his most recent being his $400 million sale of BlueCat — Hyatt will be able to add an extra layer of mentorship to the program. He’ll also act as an advisor to Blakes on running the Nitro program effectively.

For Blakes, Nitro is an opportunity to stay ahead of emerging technologies and business models as they unfold; Nitro program founder and Blakes partner Christine Ing identifies blockchain as a particular area of interest because of inroads with smart contracts. At the same time, working closely with startups enables the firm to see where they can improve their own operational inefficiencies using tech like AI.

“In terms of practice of law, AI tools will be the ones that we will need to look at in-depth.”

“These areas will certainly require changes to the law as regulatory changes will be required, and it just means a lot of new thinking, and new paradigms to consider. In terms of practice of law, AI tools will be the ones that we will need to look at in-depth early and adopt into our own practice,” said Ing.

Ulula, one of the first startups to join the program, recently closed a $1 million seed round and suggests that the program is set up to keep up with the fast pace of startup growth. “As a startup, nimbleness is a critical advantage. Even though Blakes is not a startup like Ulula, my co-founder and I could still find the agility we need from the Nitro program because it’s built for startups and run by people who have lived startup experience,” said Manu Kabahizi, co-founder and CTO of Ulula.

While the program is currently only open to startups in Toronto and Waterloo, the firm plans to expand to another market, though Ing declined to share specifics. Moving forward, both Ing and Hyatt express optimism for a program that fills an underserved gap in a startup’s journey.

“To build a company takes a village; there’s not one thing that works. Legal is part of it, and entrepreneurs that have been there and done that is part of it,” said Hyatt. “It’s never been a better time to start a company and it’s never been more inexpensive, but there’s still a gap in knowledge in what to do to optimize traction. You hear people raising money all the time, and then they spend it badly or don’t do the right thing and then they end up doing a down round. But we’re trying to shape these companies so they can grow.”

Photo via Speakers Spotlight, Story Jessica Galang