Supporting sustainable startups and underrepresented entrepreneurs

Penn Carey Law’s Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic contributes to economic development with a focus on underrepresented entrepreneurs and social impact startups.

Since its founding in 1981 in collaboration with Wharton, the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic (ELC) at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School has helped launch eateries, artists and arts organizations, fashion ventures, health science enterprises, environmental businesses, and many others.

Students in the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic in a classroom working on laptops.
Image: Courtesy of Penn Carey Law

Under the supervision of faculty members with decades of experience as business lawyers, students support entrepreneurs and owners by drafting and reviewing everything from operating and vendor agreements, providing management and employment advice, and counseling clients on intellectual property. ELC clients include a mix of for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and many have a social impact mission, contributing positively to their neighborhoods and to society at large.

Praveen Kosuri, deputy dean for clinical education, director of the ELC, and practice professor of law, developed the clinic’s focus on social impact, which has become a national model. He describes the clinic’s work as “grassroots economic development.” ELC is one of eight in-house clinics that comprise the Gittis Legal Clinics, Penn Carey Law’s teaching law firm.

As a premier experiential educational opportunity, the ELC gives students the opportunity to do real-life legal work and apply what they learn in the classroom. Up to 16 students in the clinic per semester spend about 20 hours a week on the course, which includes a classroom component as well as direct client work.

The students who won the inaugural President’s Sustainability Prize at Penn in 2022 for developing filters to capture microplastics in synthetic clothing before they spilled from washing machines into waterways, enlisted the clinic to guide their company, Baleena, through its growing pains with invaluable legal advice. Now, the company is growing with new corporate partners who have agreed to try their filters in their repair, testing, and design centers.

“They are just beginning to form their professional identities here in the Clinic,” Kosuri says. “They are not just learning what a lawyer does but what a lawyer is. And that’s what I hope to really imbue in them.”

Yusef Ahmad helped Baleena negotiate an agreement with a local laboratory for product testing and product development, assisted with developing corporate governance rules, and advised the company on future strategic partnerships. “It was rewarding to help guide a high-impact company that looked to make the world cleaner,” Ahmad says. “I loved my experience.”

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