Lawyer Talks Industry Trends, Improving WI’s Startup Scene, & More

Joe Boucher, a Madison, WI-based attorney, has been advising early-stage businesses for more than 30 years. He is a co-founder of Neider & Boucher, and bestlawyers.com recently named him 2017 Madison-area lawyer of the year for closely held companies and family. Earlier this week, Boucher sat down with Xconomy Wisconsin to discuss some of the things founders should consider when launching ventures, how Madison’s entrepreneurial community has evolved over the years, and other topics. Here is a condensed and lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Xconomy: How did you initially begin working with startup companies?

Joe Boucher: I started working with entrepreneurs in the 1980s. Before that, I did a lot of mergers and acquisitions work. As a young lawyer, you want to develop business but you’re not going to take business clients away from other lawyers. So what you do is find a space where people are buying or starting businesses. I’m a CPA/MBA and I’ve taught at the [University of Wisconsin-Madison] business school for 36 years, so I work a lot with finance and accounting. It’s a natural fit for me.

X: What are some of the companies led by UW-Madison alumni and Madison-based entrepreneurs you’ve worked with over the years?

JB: I met Matt Younkle when he was an undergrad at UW and started what became TurboTap. Later on, after he had moved back to Madison, we started talking about new ideas to collaborate on, including [the music streaming service] Murfie.

Another is Michael Fenchel. He studied at the University of Michigan, and now he’s working on Breathe For Change, a health and wellness company.

X: Does every newly formed company need to bring in an attorney to provide legal advice?

JB: It depends. People who have done it before can do a lot of the early stuff on their own. But if you’re inexperienced, I’d tell you to find a lawyer who’s willing to help you, train you, and teach you. There’s a lot of lawyers in this community who will [provide services] gratis, to get people educated.

X: You have said that for most businesses, it makes more sense to incorporate as a Limited Liability Company (LLC), rather than as a C-Corporation. Have companies always had that choice?

JB: In Wisconsin, not before 1994. The first state to pass the LLC law was Wyoming in 1977. But the IRS didn’t issue a favorable tax ruling until about 1987. So most states, including Wisconsin, didn’t do anything [around LLCs] until the late 1980s.

I helped get legislation passed in Wisconsin. I co-authored the law with four or five other lawyers. The law got passed in 1993, effective January 1, 1994.

X: What happens when an entrepreneur approaches you with an idea for a product that is likely to entail applying for a patent?

JB: We decided when we started our law firm 20-some years ago that we were not going to have an intellectual property shop. We just realized that wasn’t going to be our forte.

Some of our lawyers, like Eric Ibele and Drew Coursin, negotiate patents and licenses, and do trademark and copyright work. But we subcontract the actual patent prosecution, be it in life sciences, tech, or whatever. You have to know what you can do, and not do.

X: What trends have you seen in terms of the industries most heavily represented in Wisconsin’s early-stage business scene?

JB: Going back 20, 25 years, the natural tendency was to assume that because we had so much life sciences research going on here at UW-Madison, that life sciences was a … Next Page »

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Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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