Pro bono award honours legal support scheme for green tech startups

Mitesh Jagatia of Bloomberg
Mitesh Jagatia of Bloomberg

Startups in Imperial’s Enterprise Lab with environmental innovations can get legal support from some of the capital’s best lawyers.

A programme that offers free legal advice to environmentally positive startups from Imperial’s Enterprise Lab and Undaunted’s Greenhouse accelerator has been named Most Effective Pro Bono Partnership in this year’s LawWorks awards. The Green Tech Legal Collaborative (GTLC) was singled out in a stiff competition that involved seven other partnerships active in the community and in business.

It’s amazing that busy people will give up their precious time to support others. Dr Simon Hepworth Imperial Enterprise

"Legal issues can be daunting for startup founders whose background is in research and technology, so it’s great that we can mobilise some of the best legal minds in the country to help them at this important stage in their development," said Dr Simon Hepworth, Director of Imperial Enterprise. "This is just the kind of diverse expertise, and personal kindness, coming from inside and outside the College, that builds founder confidence and makes us want to work even harder to bring great ideas to life."

He also thanked the GTLC participants for their commitment. "It’s amazing that busy people will give up their precious time to support others. We are very grateful to the lawyers and practices that make this project possible, and congratulate them on this well-deserved award."

This award is testament to the passion and dedication of all involved and the power of collaboration in the fight against climate change. Mia Motiee Bloomberg

The awards are given by LawWorks, a charity that supports and promotes pro bono legal services. The aim is to recognise the commitment of its members, their charity and corporate partners, and the work of independent law clinics.

"We are delighted that LawWorks has recognised the important impact of the GTLC, which was started by a group of like-minded legal and compliance professionals who wanted to support climate action using our collective expertise and specialisms," said Ruchit Patel, a partner Ropes & Gray, one of the programme’s founding firms.

"This award is welcome recognition from the legal profession of the great work the programme is doing, and is testament to the passion and dedication of all involved and the power of collaboration in the fight against climate change," said Mia Motiee of Bloomberg, who is a member of the GTLC steering committee.

Legal advice unlocks climate benefits

The GTLC was launched in 2021 with the aim of helping environmentally positive startups at Imperial navigate a wide range of complex legal and compliance challenges. The topics addressed range from corporate governance and fundraising, to dispute resolution and intellectual property (IP) protection.

"By providing holistic legal and compliance assistance and guidance to these green tech startups at a crucial stage of their development, we hope and anticipate that they will succeed in meaningfully and positively impacting climate action for a better and healthier planet," said Mitesh Jagatia of Bloomberg, who also sits on the GTLC steering committee.

In its first year it set out to help six startups, a goal that tripled to 18 startups in 2023. The pro bono support provided is now well in excess of £1 million.

The scope of the programme has also evolved, taking in additional practice areas, with further law firms joining the initiative. The GTLC now brings together Bloomberg, Ropes & Gray LLP, Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, Ashurst, Mayer Brown, Travers Smith, Shearman & Sterling LLP, and Venner Shipley.

Lifting the legal burden

Volunteers from the GTLC helped Resting Reef with a wide range of legal issues the company had to deal with in its first year. These included drafting articles of association, incorporation of the company, drawing up employee contracts, performing an IP assessment, handling legal regulatory considerations, and addressing the liabilities and terms and conditions for a crowdfunding project.

"Starting our first business right after graduating was a bit daunting, but with the support GTLC provided we have been able to build a business with a solid foundation that will be available in the market hopefully in a year," says Louise Skajem, who co-founded the company with Aura Murillo after they both completed double Master’s degrees in global innovation design, run by Imperial and the Royal College of Art.

Having help with burden of legal documentation was also appreciated by Dejan Mitrovic and Clare Brass, co-founders of sustainable packaging startup Moree. "When you’re a bootstrapped startup, you tend to watch your budget meticulously and that means you often end up doing things yourself, for which you might be underqualified," says Mr Mitrovic, Moree’s chief executive. "One of those things is unfortunately dealing with legal documents, because we live in a system where lawyer fees are unreachable for young startups."

Patents and people

Moree had also considered patenting its innovative packaging solution, but taken no action for more than a year. "Our main barrier was lack of internal expertise and lack of budget to cover the high legal fees," said Mr Mitrovic. "Getting onto the GTLC programme meant that we could have a subsidised rate for applying for a patent and amazing expertise from the volunteers who helped us put our application together."

Their professionalism, expertise, and dedication have left an indelible mark on the development of our company. Abiel Ma Vuala

It’s not just the legal help, but the way it is given that singles out the GTLC’s contribution. "Our interactions with the GTLC have not only been incredibly helpful, they have also been surprisingly fun and joyful," says Ms Brass, Moree’s chief product officer. "They are a lovely bunch of people!"

Abiel Ma, the co-founder and chief executive of Vuala , agrees. "From the outset, their professionalism, expertise, and dedication have left an indelible mark on the development of our company," he says. "Their ability to seamlessly integrate into Vuala’s team has been a game-changer for us. The biweekly meetings have become a forum for insightful discussions, shaping our decisions and ensuring legal compliance."

Imperial’s Enterprise Lab is a dedicated support service for students, staff and alumni who want to develop their entrepreneurial mindset, skills, and networks. In addition to programmes like GTLC, it offers advice and mentorship on all stages in creating a startup, from the idea, through proof-of-concept, to seeking investment.