IPVC clients earn national recognition in Student Startup Madness Competition
In a field of more than 200 entries from college startup companies from around the country, two companies founded by Case Western Reserve University students stood out. Reflexion Interactive Technologies, co-founded by sophomore Matt Campagna, and Parihug, founded by junior Xyla Floxlin, placed second and third in the national Student Startup Madness Competition’s final round at South by Southwest Interactive in March 2017.
Success during the competition was an important next step in taking their startups from concept to commercialization, a long and challenging path that is being paved with the help of a unique third-year law clinic focused on removing economic and legal barriers for Ohio inventors.
The Intellectual Property Venture Clinic (IPVC) launched in 2013 with the help of a $679,400 grant from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation as part of a large scale effort to foster innovation and spur economic development in northeast Ohio. The grant allows the law school to not only provide one-of-a-kind training for law students in the business world, but also offer free legal and business expertise to student inventors and local startup companies as they enter the market.
“On one side, you have a great new idea, but it doesn’t have the resources to take the next step,” said Professor Ted Theofrastous, Managing Attorney of the IPVC. “On the other, you have investors looking for opportunities in a market where significant barriers are preventing many startups from ever reaching the stage of being a commercial property. We’re working to bridge that gap, give our students strong experience in the broad spectrum of corporate law, and help these startups bring great new economic opportunities to the region.”
Reflexion Interactive Technologies, which developed a rapid concussion-screening technology, and Parihug, an innovative take on teddy bears that uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to allow loved ones to virtually “hug” each other from anywhere in the world, are just two of more than 40 IPVC clients being handled by the clinic’s 11 law students, with several more startups in waiting for consideration.
“These two companies are the perfect examples of what kind of service our clinic provides,” said Theofrastous. “They both created exciting inventions and are looking to start a real business. We’re creating a strategy to protect the broad spectrum of their potential intellectual property including patents, trademarks, trade secrets and copyright, while also providing pro bono counsel on corporate, tax, contract and all other law that goes into developing a business from scratch.”
What makes the IPVC unique is the blend of business, intellectual property law, venture capitalization, and corporate counseling experience and training the clinic provides for law students, where the work they
are exposed to is uncommon not just for students, but for early-career legal professionals.
“We take them to the deep end pool and teach them to swim fast,” said Theofrastous. “Our students get the kind of face time with clients that usually comes much later in a legal career, allowing them to perform the work they learned in class out in the real world so when they graduate, they have the people skills, confidence and tangible experience to showcase themselves to employers.”
For Reflexion’s Matt Campagna, the work done in the clinic was an indispensable asset to the company.
“The clinic really became part of the team, and I find myself going to them more and more for general advice because they became so knowledgeable about the company. Frankly, we wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of what we have without them because it wouldn’t have been in the budget.”
“We would have needed to raise more money or give up more control of the company. Having the clinic there to help structure things the way they need to be and do things right the first time has given us a lot of protection for ourselves, our employees, and our intellectual property,” said Campagna. “We would have been stretched to find other ways to do it because it cost so much.”
The clinic’s work with Reflexion and Parihug will continue through series A financing, a company's first significant round of venture capital financing, when they will have enough resources to afford their own legal services. When that happens, the clinic’s mission will be accomplished.
“You can’t buy ideas or force creativity. There is an organic factor to it, so we’re working to foster an
innovative and lucrative marketplace here where the best minds and best ideas can thrive,” said Theofrastous. “I’m very proud of the work our students have done across all of our clients, and we look forward to being a part of launching the next generation of Ohio businesses.”