Coastal Collaboration: UNC School of Law’s Institute for Innovation Brings Legal Expertise to Wilmington

March 19, 2024

UNC School of Law and CHANNEL Powered by Live Oak Bank celebrated the launch of an exciting new collaboration at the CHANNEL/Institute for Innovation Kickoff Event on March 12, 2024. The event brought together small business owners, entrepreneurs, and legal experts to discuss how this partnership will provide vital legal resources and support to the small business community in Wilmington.

The UNC School of Law Institute for Innovation, located on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill, provides early-stage legal counsel to new for-profit and nonprofit ventures. The Institute serves business and social enterprise entrepreneurs on the campuses of UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, in partnership with UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and NC State University’s Poole College of Management. It also aims to support the economic development of under-resourced communities.

During opening remarks, Dean Martin H. Brinkley ’92 shared his vision for the Institute, stating, “When I became Dean, I wanted to create a way for our students to represent as part of their training to become lawyers– people who are trying to start businesses, and that’s what we did.” He explained that the Institute is comprised of three law clinics supervised by full-time members of the law school faculty: the Startup NC Law Clinic, the Community Development Law Clinic, and the Intellectual Property Clinic, which is directed by Assistant Professor Dustin Marlan

Brinkley continued, “We have 24 students enrolled in these clinics every semester, which means 48 students a year, and probably about 15 matters a semester so Marlan’s clinic alone is representing about 30 clients a year. And so multiply that by three. So, it’s almost 100 matters or clients a year are cycling through the Institute for Innovation.”

Later in the event, Marlan gave a presentation on the importance of trademark protection for small businesses. He explained the differences between trademarks, patents, and copyrights, and provided guidance on how entrepreneurs can protect their intellectual property.

Director of Channel, Chakema Clinton-Quintana, speaking to a group of entrepreneurs
CHANNEL Director Chakema Clinton-Quintana, speaks to a group of entrepreneurs at the CHANNEL/ Carolina Law Kickoff Event

This collaboration comes at a crucial time for small businesses and entrepreneurs, particularly those in under-resourced communities. Quality legal services are often out of reach for cash-strapped startups and small businesses, but by providing pro bono assistance and expertise, Carolina Law is helping to level the playing field.

The impact of this partnership is already being felt by entrepreneurs like Elizabeth Graham, a single mother working to launch Chris Cares, a facility to support autistic children and their families in Wilmington. With the resources and support provided by CHANNEL, which opened on November 15, 2021, and now UNC School of Law, Graham is one step closer to turning her dream into a reality.

A key theme that emerged throughout the event was the importance of collaboration, community, and support in the entrepreneurial journey. As Chakema Clinton-Quintana, Director of CHANNEL, pointed out, “This is like a perfect marriage. Because now we can broaden our horizons a little bit. We can get some lawyers. Some of the things that we technically can’t do here, we can actually partner up with someone who can.”

With 700 small businesses and 360 clients actively using the CHANNEL space, the potential impact of this collaboration on the entrepreneurial landscape is significant. By working together, Carolina Law and CHANNEL are not only providing essential resources and support to small business owners but also fostering a sense of community and collaboration that is critical to their success.

As the event came to a close with networking and a meal from a local small business caterer, the spirit of collaboration was palpable. Armed with new connections and knowledge, the small business owners of CHANNEL were left better equipped to turn their entrepreneurial dreams into reality – with the legal expertise of Carolina Law behind them.