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Member Spotlight | Locke Lord

on May 20, 2019 / by Nancy Dahlberg ,

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: Locke Lord is a full-service corporate law firm with global reach of 20 offices designed to meet clients’ needs around the world.

West Palm Beach office established: 1983

Partner John Igoe’s specialties: startups, venture capital firms, private equity firms

Igoe’s advice to startups: Organizational discipline is critical from the start.  Choosing the right structure and coordinating those structural decisions with the lawyers and  accountants is also very important.

 John Igoe, a corporate lawyer and partner at Locke Lord, has been representing venture capital firms and startup companies his entire law career. He’s also a longtime board member of the nonprofit Florida Venture Forum, a statewide member-based organization for the private equity, venture capital and angel community.

“A lot of my practice is working with startup companies from the very beginning, helping them raise capital and then helping them with a merger and acquisition transaction when it gets to an exit,” said Igoe, who began practicing in 1981 in Providence, RI, and moved to Palm Beach County in 1983.

Igoe has been recognized as a Top Lawyer in the South Florida Legal Guide from 2010 to 2019 in the area of private equity. He has been named a Florida Super Lawyer by Law & Politics Magazine each year since 2006.

Igoe has seen it all. Among his clients are a wireless equipment venture and a medical imaging device company that he helped all the way through IPO. A discussion with Igoe about the South Florida entrepreneurship scene is a discussion about promise, progress and growth.

John presenting 1st Prize at the 2017 Palm Beach Tech Pitch Competition

“When I moved to Florida in 1983 when my firm opened an office here, there were only a handful of VC firms and there were virtually zero organized angel groups. That has changed for the better. Today there are a significant number of organized angel investment groups focused on investing in startup companies – New World Angels, Florida Funders, Deepwork Capital, Arsenal Ventures and many more.”

“A lot of these startup funds and angel groups collaborate with each other,” he said. “The good news is this is productive collaboration, and if you get one group interested in your startup, they could bring other groups along and increase the size of the financing.”

To be sure, the biggest challenge for startups remains raising capital. “What startup companies really need to do is find a way to get customers in order to start generating revenue as soon as you can. Prospective investors look at you so much differently if you have found a path for generating revenue. It’s validation of the idea, validation of the business model. Until that, you are really just a science project. “

While getting to revenue and raising capital are two big challenges, another may be conveying the right message to investors, he said. He sees this a lot: In pitches, startups will say it’s an $x-billion market and all we have to do is grab 1%.

“Investors can’t stand that, like it’s just going to happen by magic. I tell my clients you have to show your investors that you have a strategic marketing plan, a path for generating revenue and acquiring customers.”

Is Palm Beach County the place to raise a startup? He’s bullish.

“It’s always a challenge when people say it is easier to raise money in Silicon Valley and I am just going to move my company there. I have seen this work for some companies, but that’s depressing to me when it happens. I think there is enough of an ecosystem here now and we are starting to generate enough talent for whatever a company needs,” said Igoe. “The Palm Beach Tech Association has done a terrific job of pulling all the various constituents together and they have created a lot of awareness of resources in the county for startups companies.”

Igoe previously chaired the VC Committee for Palm Beach Tech and continues to serve on the committee. They have been working on a matching grant program and a resource about investment groups.

Locke Lord has sponsored Florida Venture Forum since the Forum’s early days. Back then, it hosted events in South Florida where companies presented their business plan to a relatively small audience — “kind of an early shark tank but more polite.” Said Igoe, who serves on the Forum’s board of directors and executive committee.

The Forum evolved into a statewide organization that hosts two annual major conferences – the Florida Venture Capital Conference and the Early Stage Capital Conference — as well as co-sponsors smaller events around the state. The conferences typically feature up to 20 presenting companies as well as  panel discussions,  keynotes and of course excellent networking opportunities.

Igoe and Locke Lord Partner Jon Cole pushed for the addition of the Early Stage Capital Conference 12 years ago because they saw a need for a separate conference that would showcase early stage startups. “We paid for the first one, and it has been steadily increasing in size almost every year. You could probably couple the growth of the conference with the growth of startup funds,” Igoe said.

This year, the conference included some startups at earlier stages than it had in the past. “It’s kind of back to the roots of 30 years ago when we were featuring startups. We had evolved away from that, to companies with revenue, but with all the startup funds around the state now it seemed like a good idea to go back to our roots and include pure startups and seed stage as well as early-stage companies.”

Member Spotlight | Locke Lord