It used to be that clients came to their lawyers' offices if they wanted legal advice. About 20 years ago, the profession got the bright idea that clients might appreciate it if their advisers showed some interest in their business by visiting them on occasion.
Nowadays, it's come to the point where lawyers are willing to hang around where the action is simply on the if-come. And they don't go alone: the smart marketers partner with entities that can also add value to a client's business.
This is the thinking behind Ogilvy Renault's Feb. 6 announcement that it had joined with BioScience Managers (BML), an international venture capital firm, to open the Bioscience Exchange @ MaRS, known as BE@M, at the MaRS Centre in Toronto.
The centre opened in May 2005 in the midst of the MaRS Discovery District, a convergence innovation centre on the former site of Toronto General Hospital at the corner of College St. and University Ave. Located in the heart of the city's academic and medical technology corridor, the complex is the centrepiece of the non-profit corporation known as MaRS, whose proponents are dedicated to building a collaborative and synergistic framework of science, business, and capital focused on commercializing Canadian innovations.
MaRS' business model posits the organization as a non-profit facilitator and enabler. Its three key sources of funding are real estate net revenues, fundraising and fees for service.
"The MaRS Centre strikes us as the right environment from the perspective of developing business in the life sciences and technology arena," says Joan Van Zant of Toronto, a patent agent and national vice chairwoman of Ogilvy Renault LLP's intellectual property group. "Being in the midst of a cluster of stakeholders dedicated to making the most of Canadian innovation is a natural fit for us."
Having BML as a partner certainly won't hurt the law firm's ambitions. BML is a specialist life science capital firm that has partnered with Teachers' Private Capital, the private equity arm of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, one of Canada's largest investors, to establish the BML International Maple Leaf Fund, which invests in clinical stage companies in Canada.
BE@M is an anchor tenant in the Mars Centre, making Ogilvy Renault only one of two law firms (the other is Heenan Blaikie LLP) among the 56 tenants. BE@M occupies 1,800 square feet on the ground floor of the complex near the main entrance.
Members of Ogilvy Renault's life sciences practice, as well as lawyers and agents from the firm's IT, e-business and communications group, will staff BE@M's office throughout the business day.
"We'll have two or three people there all the time in accordance with a rotation schedule," says Van Zant's partner John Stirling, also of the firm's Toronto office.
Ogilvy Renault's lawyers and agents will offer advice on all stages of the business cycle, from patenting inventions to establishing trademark and marketing strategies.
BML will base Michael Midmer, its investment manager, in the MaRS Centre. The firm will also rotate members of its international investment team through the office.
While acknowledging the marketing opportunities that the MaRS site represents, Van Zant emphasizes that BE@M is committed to the inclusive and collaborative environment that drives MaRS. The partnership intends to invite other venture capital firms, banks, and interested stakeholders to participate in workshops and similar interactive events to help entrepreneurs and researchers in the life sciences and technology sectors to commercialize their discoveries.
"Part of our role is to help educate the scientific community along University Ave. — students, teachers, and researchers alike — in the basics of commercial success for their work," says Van Zant. "You wouldn't be far off if you described some of the
programs we're planning as 'Entrepreneurship 101.'"
The programs will include advice on business-plan development, raising capital, developing intellectual property, and strategic planning.
Both Van Zant and Stirling acknowledge that their concept is an evolutionary one.
"The idea is to be part of this community at its starting point," Van Zant says. "Business builds on relationships and this is the starting point of those relationships.
"If the cluster concept is successful, we will be successful."