Two North­eastern School of Law pro­fes­sors have received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Depart­ment of Com­merce to develop a center to pro­vide legal ser­vices to the region’s small busi­nesses and study the resources needed for entre­pre­neurs below the poverty line to start their own com­pa­nies.

“The goal is to eval­uate and use data to prove or dis­prove our idea: that below the poverty line, the cri­teria for a small busi­ness to suc­ceed or fail is quite dif­fi­cult,” said Rashmi Dyal-​​Chand, a law pro­fessor and the project’s prin­cipal inves­ti­gator. 

Dyal-​​Chand will col­lab­o­rate with pro­fessor James Rowan, the Law School’s director of clin­ical pro­grams, who will be the senior advisor on the project, to be called the Com­mu­nity Busi­ness Law Clinic. 

Starting this spring, law stu­dents and a team of lawyers under the super­vi­sion of Dyal-​​Chand and Rowan will work to help small busi­nesses with legal trans­ac­tions such as con­tracts, per­mits, leases and intel­lec­tual prop­erty issues. The law clinic will target new and emerging indus­tries in and around Boston, including clean energy, green tech­nolo­gies, sci­ence and health tech­nolo­gies and small and eth­ni­cally diverse busi­nesses. The clinic will also focus on busi­nesses started by under­served entre­pre­neurs.

“The core pur­pose of our work is to sup­port entre­pre­neurs in eco­nom­i­cally dis­tressed areas who have the capacity to accom­plish the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of tech­nology and to achieve high growth,” Dyal-​​Chand said.

The clinic, which has funding to run for the next four years and the poten­tial to grow into a national pro­gram, will also help Dyal-​​Chand study what it takes for poor entre­pre­neurs to suc­ceed, a topic she has researched since arriving at North­eastern nearly a decade ago. The new clinic aligns with Northeastern’s goal of fos­tering busi­ness inno­va­tion and entre­pre­neur­ship on campus and in the com­mu­nity.

“We don’t have a lot of data about what entre­pre­neurs need in order to suc­ceed if they don’t have a master’s-level edu­ca­tion, par­ents or family who could invest in their busi­nesses, and net­works that allow them to put together resources to get going,” Dyal-​​Chand said. “When they don’t have these resources, what does it take? We really have a blank slate of what we know right now.”

Dyal-​​Chand and Rowan aim to create the first clinic at North­eastern ded­i­cated to trans­ac­tional legal skills, a cor­ner­stone of busi­ness law.

“The goal is to be pro­viding both an edu­ca­tion to our stu­dents and a mean­ingful ser­vice to the com­mu­nity,” Dyal-​​Chand said.