So I help co-lead the impact council practice here at Avisen. We really work with change-makers that use enterprise, kind of an entrepreneurial approach to advance some positive change in the world in two key areas, one is deep sustainability, and the other is social impact. My work really is at the intersection of mobilizing capital in underserved and untapped markets and things like solar, energy-saving technology, and a lot of additional next-generation renewable strategies to solve big problems.
I also do work with a lot of entrepreneurs who are trying to use some form of social enterprise, whether a non-profit or for-profit to, for instance, bring the first black-owned bookstore to Minnesota, or bring some sort of social change, but using business or entrepreneurship as the vehicle for doing so.
Being a lawyer is an extension for me of my life ethic, which is to be of service to others. I started actually in elected public service. Even before that, I have a typical political background and lawyer background. I have a bachelor of fine arts and ceramics, and I made my living as a potter. So I enjoy the craft of putting things together and of crafting solutions, particularly with clients, so that shared creativity and using the craft to the law and also with my finance background of using proformas and spreadsheets to really make sure that the practical piece of it, that be function and form really match up.
Then being of service – I was an entrepreneur myself. I ran a company for seven years and know that stress. So I like empathizing with people of all those different challenges. I really like now being kind of that advisor, lawyer, helping to be a partner to different variety of entrepreneurs and helping them solve their problems and being able to kind of sit in their seat for a moment and then to get down and dirty and look at the how do we draft this, how do we structure your business arrangement from the beginning, how do we structure a project, how to reduce your risk or attract investment. It’s all part of a kind of same creative craft for me and a way to be of service to the world.
I find Avisen to be just the perfect home for me as a lawyer, and I think for our clients that we get to work with as well. We’re all mid or later-career lawyers who deliberately chose not to practice at a kind of big formal law firm but to be entrepreneurial ourselves. We each bring our own life experience, and we each bring our own area of expertise. So, for instance, in the solar and energy efficiency space, there’s a bunch of stuff that I know about tax credit financing, about the structuring of new technologies and utility connections.
But there’s a bunch that I don’t know about real estate, so I talk to my colleague, John. Or about licensing of technologies, so my colleague Larry, or setting up funds, so my colleague, Lisa. You name it, I could name all other colleagues and the individual expertise they bring that together really make us able to both serve our clients well. But for me, I find it fascinating to keep learning and being surrounded by people who are smarter than me all the time.
Avisen – The name comes from old French and Middle English root words for advisor. That’s a lot of the role that I and my colleagues play for our clients, which is to understand what’s their goal, where do they want to end up and what are the challenges they face today, maybe some that they don’t know about. That’s part of our role is to kind of issue-spot and say, “Hey, you should be concerned about this coming at you or this potential regulatory issue that we can knock down quickly or avoid.” So it’s that advisory role.
As a former business owner and CEO myself, I have lived the challenges of many of my clients. Also as, of course, a public servant who got to serve in the state legislature and work in the White House, a lot of my clients that I work with want to have some big public impact or some small and discreet public impact. I really appreciate being able to stand shoulder to shoulder with them to say, “I get where you’re going. I’ve been through this movie a few times and so let’s together learn what you know more than I do, and I’ll share what I know more than you do, and together we can make, I know it’s an old term, but make some real synergy happen to hopefully be better than the sum of just two people coming together.”