Tonkon HUB Flips the Script on Helping Underrepresented Business Owners

Tonkon HUB was born out of several conversations around diversity and inclusion, the desire to support a robust and diverse business community, and the search for specific, concrete ways Tonkon Torp could help business owners from marginalized and underrepresented communities.

Tonkon Torp’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion committees first developed a strategic plan which included the goal of expanding relationships with and supporting business owners from historically marginalized and underrepresented communities. A planning committee was convened and tasked with designing a collaborative program for business owners. The planning committee (which included partners Sherrill Corbett, David Forman, and Parna Mehrbani) developed a program offering financial discounts, access to attorney networks, and training and resources vital to small businesses. In 2021, the Tonkon Torp Managing Board gave its full support to launching the Helping Underrepresented Business Owners (HUB) program. Full details on the qualification criteria are available at the Tonkon HUB home page.

Tonkon Torp attorneys have long provided startups with discounted services on a case-by-case basis. But founders who do not already have a network connection to an attorney at the firm, are reluctant to cold call a law firm, or who have not previously worked with business attorneys, may not know this opportunity is available. Tonkon HUB flips the script – rather than waiting for founders to reach out, it intentionally seeks out those businesses that could benefit from legal advice through Tonkon HUB.

“For us to be an effective partner, it’s fundamental to dismantle norms about word-of-mouth referrals, and the expectation that everyone has equal access to that word of mouth. It’s easy to say, ‘they could have just called us,’ but there are a variety of cultural modes of communication, perception differences, and lived experiences to recognize and consider,” says Parna. “We don’t have control over the beliefs people have about their access to services, but we can throw the doors wide open and be loud about saying we’re here to help all businesses with our expertise and services.”

Tonkon HUB benefits include a free consultation and discounted services for qualifying businesses, which can help a company get through its crucial formation period. Tonkon Torp’s goals are to support a thriving and diverse business community and to build long term partnerships with founders by setting foundational building blocks and continuing to work with a business to meet its goals for launch, growth, and exit. Tonkon Torp enjoys decades-long relationships with Portland’s most prominent corporations and closely-held businesses, and attorneys are looking forward to building the same trust and partnership with the rising generation of business owners.

“Tonkon Torp’s founders emphasized a lawyer‘s responsibility to the community in addition to providing terrific legal services,” shared David. “It continues to be a vital part of the firm’s DNA. Through the HUB program, the firm is just formalizing what we’ve already been doing so that more people have access to legal services.”

Tonkon HUB helps to address the fact that business owners from marginalized or underrepresented communities don’t necessarily begin their journey at the same starting line as others do. These entrepreneurs are no less innovative or capable, and their businesses no less promising, but access to capital through financing or family members is often not available in the same fashion, and networks may be limited.

Brenda Meltebeke, Chair of Tonkon Torp’s Entrepreneurial Services Group, leads the team of attorneys focused on helping startups and high growth businesses lay a financial and structural foundation for success. She believes that introductions into network relationships are one of the most valuable resources Tonkon HUB can extend.

“The attorneys in our firm have all the expertise a company could need. But what we do particularly well, and what will be essential for HUB clients, is being a resource for clients far beyond legal counsel,” she explained. “We have market knowledge that first-time founders won’t have. So, we can help find and create access to resources, whatever they may be. For example, I work with several funds and I’m able to refer clients to the funds that I represent, as well as to other funds that could be a match for their business.”

There is no limitation on what kind of business structure or industry can access Tonkon HUB. Since Tonkon HUB is not part of a specific practice group, clients can access expertise from throughout the firm to meet their specific needs. Some of the early participants in Tonkon HUB include Black-owned businesses introduced to the firm through its relationship with Black Founders Matter Fund and NuProject. NuProject is an Oregon public benefit company working to address equity hurdles and build generational wealth in the legal cannabis industry.

As 2022 networking opportunities arise, partners will be reaching out to minority business organizations throughout the Metro area to share information about HUB and ensure that businesses know it is available. 

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