Simone Grande '22 could have tackled the legal research herself—as a third-year UB Law student, she knows how to dive into rules and procedure. But when she was conceiving and structuring her online apparel company, Sleevs, Grande turned for guidance to two fellow 3Ls in the Entrepreneurship Law Center Clinic.
Her experience is an object lesson in how the e-Law Clinic, directed by adjunct faculty member Matthew K. Pelkey, not only helps fledgling businesses with the practical aspects of setting up shop, but acts as wise counsel in the process.
Grande’s business was born from a family tragedy: the loss of her 26-year-old nephew to COVID-19. “I was looking for a way to let everybody know what was going on with me,” she says. “I remember after 9/11 there were things like ribbons that said, ‘We will never forget.’ I thought maybe there’s something like that for COVID, but when I searched online, I found nothing.”
So she designed a line of products—T-shirts, hoodies, mugs—with the theme Healing Together. She trademarked the brand and set up a website to fill that unmet need. “There’s no national, unifying symbol,” Grande says. “I wanted to put something out there for people to know they’re not alone.”
But she wasn’t sure what was the best legal structure for her new company, and for that she turned to the e-Law Clinic. One of the clinic’s student attorneys, Rachel Zimmer, worked with her to sort through the possibilities.
“When we met, I tried to understand what she wanted to do,” Zimmer says, “and it was my job to provide her information and support. I researched all the different options, the different legal entities that would make sense for her business. And we worked together to help her tailor her goals.”
When her semester in the e-Law Clinic ended, Zimmer handed over the case to fellow clinic member Michael Perotto. Working with him, Grande settled on creating a public benefit corporation—a B Corp, which is built around a responsibility to generate social and public good and to operate in a responsible and sustainable manner. It fit with Grande’s mission to provide a benefit to those grieving a loss.
“Had they not told me about that option, I don’t know if I would have gone forward with the business,” she says. “Michael was instrumental in motivating me to continue through the incorporation process.” Perotto arranged the application for incorporation through New York State, and in early March, Sleevs became fully incorporated.
For Perotto, who has done three semesters in the clinic, the project was one of a wide array of cases in fields ranging from pharmaceuticals to medical equipment to social media technology. “It’s been a great opportunity for me, dealing with as many clients as I possibly can, because each one is different,” he says. “It’s been amazing. If I could go back and do anything differently, I would have done the e-Law Clinic from the first semester of my 2L year. I’ve gained so much experience and fulfillment from interacting with clients, managing their expectations, and learning how to communicate in a way the client feels comfortable and understood.”
In her two semesters in the clinic, Zimmer had much the same experience. “It was a really great experience because it’s so hands-on,” she says. “You work with clients and see real issues that come up in real time, and Professor Pelkey gives you the freedom to do our own research and figure out how to help the client. In the end, you’ve helped them bring their company to life.”