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Competition for the next generation of hot, new startups is so stiff in Silicon Valley that lawyers are working the high schools. But firms like Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian aren’t looking for clients among the Generation Y set. They’re looking for pro bono opportunities. While tech startups sometimes seem like charities, they don’t exactly satisfy the desire to do something good for the community. That’s where BUILD of East Palo Alto, Calif., comes in for Gunderson. Some 40 of the firm’s lawyers and staff pitched in with BUILD’s program, which teaches high school students about business fundamentals. The teen-agers ultimately use what they learn to create, write and pitch a business plan. “Pro bono opportunities are really limited for corporate lawyers,” said Amy Fox, a first-year Gunderson associate who provided the link between the firm and BUILD. Fox is married to BUILD’s manager of business development, Ulysses Hui. Corporate lawyers from Gunderson, Cooley Godward and other Silicon Valley firms have pitched in with BUILD’s participants, who are high school students from East Palo Alto and nearby Menlo Park neighborhoods. Gunderson played host several weeks ago to a competition among the teens for $2,500 in seed money. Five teams pitched their business plans to a panel of successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from firms like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Asset Management Co. And Gunderson founders Robert Gunderson Jr. and Steven Franklin personally pitched in with legal work for BUILD. BUILD, which stands for Businesses United in Investing, Lending and Development, has its roots in a law firm as well. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom created the opportunity for Suzanne Klahr to found BUILD nearly two years ago when she won a two-year public service fellowship from the firm. She was fresh out of Stanford Law School at the time. Tech lawyers from throughout the Valley and Gunderson staff worked directly with the teen-agers, helping them research and write their business plans. They also taught them how to pitch their businesses like pros. At the competition in a Gunderson war room, 14- and 15-year-olds were slinging phrases like “cost of goods sold per unit” and “target market,” meanwhile calling their peers “young adults” and their high schools “facilities of higher learning.” The teens handed out business cards and shook hands with the panel of nine judges, all the while making more eye contact than you’d see at a typical high school mixer. The winners on May 23 were 16-year-old Amber Sade Bundy and 17-year-old Lungusu Malonga, both of whom are students at Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto, Calif. The duo’s poise and professional presentation skills won them seed money to launch their planned Kehinde & N’Dosi Image Consulting. The company seeks to help department stores and clothing boutiques market to teens. Both of the young women had been voted best-dressed at the school. Ben Dubin, a general partner at Asset and a judge for the event, said they were polished. But as a group, he said, the teens were on top of their game. He asked questions, he said, to test whether they understood their businesses or were just reciting a scripted presentation. He said he was happy with the answers he got. “This is more refreshing in a way because they’re starting close to home. So many deals we see today are entrepreneurs who say, ‘I want to take over the world; just close your eyes and imagine,’ but this is real stuff,” Dubin said. And for the lawyers, working with the teens was more than writing business plans. “We provided what a big sister or big brother program would provide,” Fox said, adding that she and her colleagues relished being role models. For Klahr, putting a positive spin on lawyers is a plus for the program. “In the neighborhoods where these students live, lawyers get a pejorative connotation,” Klahr said. “BUILD gives them new role models.”

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