At the best of times, starting a business is a “scary proposition,” says George Horhota, a corporate lawyer and president of BrightLane, a shared office space in Toronto’s King West neighborhood that caters to small businesses. On top of a smart idea, he explains, entrepreneurs need customers, a well-defined target market and a marketing plan. And if that’s not overwhelming enough, they might need to hit up the bank for an initial shot of capital to afford overhead.
And so, Horhota wants to make things easier for aspiring entrepreneurs across the city.
In early December, BrightLane will host its first ever Entrepreneur Awards, pitting ambitious business people against each other in a contest modeled after the hit television show Dragons’ Den. The panel of judges — which includes Precedent’s editor Melissa Kluger — will award a six-month membership to as many as 25 candidates. After that six-month period, BrightLane will select five businesses to receive another six months of free space. Then, after a year, BrightLane will pick a single champion and hand over a cheque for $15,000.
In future years, BrightLane will name the award after G. Raymond Chang, the Toronto philanthropist and businessperson who founded the facility in 2013. Chang also died this past summer.
BrightLane is now accepting applications — and Horhota wants forward-thinking lawyers to throw their name in the hat.
“People don’t often see lawyers as entrepreneurs, but what it takes to thrive as a sole practitioner is the very essence of entrepreneurship,” he says. “Lawyers who want to set up their own practice confront the exact same challenges as someone starting a software company from scratch.”
For any lawyer thinking about entering the competition, Horhota has the following advice: solid business ideas don’t have to be earth shattering. In fact, they can be quite simple. Horhota offers up an idea of his own: “If I it were me, I might say, ‘I’m going to start a real estate firm and only go after condo owners in Toronto. There are 100,000 of them in the city today. They’re growing by 10,000 every year. And here’s why I can serve them better than anyone else.’”
He also says that, when crafting their pitch for the judges, lawyers should formulate a marketing plan — a key ingredient in the strategic vision of most companies, but an afterthought in law firms. “Most firms farm it out to marketing firms that really don’t understand the legal market or they ignore it altogether,” he says. “But effective marketing is essential for getting most businesses off the ground.”
So far, two lawyers have already taken their practices to the BrightLane offices.
And those lawyers often develop meaningful business relationships with other entrepreneurs in the building, says Tawny Dhaliwal, the community manager at BrightLane. “One of our lawyers” — Sarah Hooper, founder of Charles Hooper Law — “uses one of our designers to brand her law firm and, in turn, she provides legal services to our entrepreneurs.”
You can sign up for the event online.