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Pillsbury Launches $11M Equal Justice Initiative

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, an international law firm with a long history in San Diego, has launched a $11 million commitment to advance civil rights and equal justice. 

The multi-million dollar investment seeks to address the systemic inequities that have resulted in Black founders representing only 1% of venture-backed startups.

Over a three-year timeframe, Pillsbury is committing $1 million from the Pillsbury Foundation and $10 million in new pro bono legal and other volunteer services.

In conjunction with the initiative, Pillsbury formed the Black-Owned Startup Support (BOSS) Labs, aimed to help increase access and opportunity for fast-growing Black-owned companies. 

Helping Black Founders

“Our goal is to act as a catalyst in the startup ecosystem, engaging with Black entrepreneurs and emerging company investors and advisors to drive a positive change in outcomes for all,” said Riaz Karamali, corporate partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. 

Through the BOSS Lab program, Pillsbury will provide startups in the US and UK with connections to investors and other players in the startup ecosystem, as well as relevant educational resources.

To apply and be accepted for the BOSS Lab program, the startup must be led by a Black founder, can demonstrate high growth potential, lives in either the US or UK, and has not received venture-backed funding from investors. 

Participants accepted in the BOSS Lab will gain access to an extensive network which can help supplement the company’s existing team with the goal of obtaining seed-stage and venture capital funding.

“Using our award-winning capabilities to support Black-owned startups, promote their ideas and connect them to influence and funding can truly help move the needle for Black founders,” said Stacie Yee, partner and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. 

Supporting Up to 50 Startups

In the first year, the firm will tap its emerging growth and venture capital lawyers to provide volunteer legal and advisory services to a maximum of 50 startups with high-growth potential.

Such services are expected to total at least $20,000 for each startup, which includes a legal audit, cleanup and restructuring, among other services depending on the stage of the company. 

In addition, Pillsbury is providing pro bono legal services to Black-owned new businesses that could not otherwise afford legal representation and fit the BOSS Lab profile.

Interested clients will receive a toolkit which includes resources ranging from legal documents to best practices guidance to legal advice from Pillsbury attorneys. 

In San Diego, the leadership team operating the BOSS Labs program includes Pillsbury’s corporate partner Christian Salaman, consulting manager Martin Bridges, and business consultant Thomas Tiop.

Making a Difference

“Pillsbury is working to make a difference by leveraging the resources we have available. We have a lot of great lawyers who operate in the startup space and have great relationships around the world,” said Martin Bridges, consulting manager and entrepreneur-in-residence at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.

“So far, we have about 20 startups accepted into our BOSS Labs program. Three of which are based right here in San Diego. We expect that number to increase moving forward,” he added.

Founded 1868, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman advises startups from founding and financing to acquisition or IPO. One of the top U.S. law firms, it brought in $677.3M in gross revenue in 2019, according to the most recent American Lawyer Media data. It has roughly 700 attorneys operating from 20 offices in the U.S., London and Asia.

Pillsbury’s San Diego office lawyers regularly donate their time pro bono to California Innocence Project, Casa Cornelia, and the San Diego Volunteer Lawyers Program.

The San Diego office also partners with the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding San Diego via the Pillsbury foundation and supports the Aztec Club, which benefits the student-athlete experience at San Diego State University.


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