Buffalo-based entrepreneur Adam Utley had a goal: start a biotech company that creates cancer therapies for patients by storing healthy immune cells from their blood that can be retrained to fight cancer.
“Cancer turns off the immune cells, basically taking away the guns and ammo that are used by immune cells to kill the cancer,” says Utley, a now founder and CEO of Immunaeon. “By allowing our customers to store their cells before they get sick, we give them the best chance at creating cancer cures if they get sick.”
He adds: “We knew that there was a market opportunity to bring Immunaeon to life, but our team had little understanding of what it meant to start a company.”
That’s when he reached out to Matthew Pelkey, program director of the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Entrepreneurship Law Center Clinic, or e-Law Center Clinic.
“Matt and his team helped us to understand the fundamentals of starting a company from the ground up,” says Utley, a Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences alumnus. “They gave us insight into corporate structure, best practices, regulatory pathways, and helped us set up the company from the ground up.”
Immunaeon is another success story for the e-Law Center Clinic, a blossoming student-driven agency that provides legal services to entrepreneurs and startups not yet ready or able to engage outside legal counsel.
For more than five years, around 30 student-, staff- and faculty-led companies have filed applications each semester to work with the e-Law Center Clinic, which guides them through the essential legal challenges and questions faced by new and fledgling businesses.
‘You don’t even know …’
“When you are starting a business, especially for first-time founders, there are a lot of business and legal issues to navigate — all while you’re focusing attention getting an idea off of the ground,” says Pelkey, the clinic’s program director. “You don’t even know what you don’t know. Having mentors there, having resources there are crucial to avoiding common mistakes.
“As practitioners, we fill a gap in the marketplace because oftentimes, those businesses don’t have the funds to hire proper counsel. So they will go online. They’ll do it themselves. They’ll have their uncle’s nephew next-door neighbor twice removed do it. In the process, they ultimately create more problems than they solve,” he says. “By working with the e-Law Center Clinic early, you can position these companies as best as possible for success.”
Services provided by the e-Law Center Clinic include:
The clinic represents startups during the academic year, with its services available for faculty, staff, alumni and students.
The clinic also helps anyone affiliated with UB partner associations, including Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Hauptman Woodward Medical Research Institute, Kaleida Health, Jacobs Institute and the Western New York Incubator Network.
“The only caveat is, it can’t be a business that has raised any capital with investors,” Pelkey says.
Utley says the e-Law Center Clinic, as well as other UB efforts including investments from Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships' Cultivator program and winning the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition, have helped steer Immunaeon toward a successful future.
“The e-Law Clinic was instrumental in our founding and an incredible asset as we progressed toward initial funding through the UB Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships program,” Utley says. “Without their guidance and help, Immunaeon would not be where we are today.”