By Sheila Pursglove
Reality, time, and money—a trifecta of tripping points for entrepreneurs. That’s the word from attorney Mark Bennett, and he should know, having launched five companies, raising more than $35 million in multiple industries from national venture capital firms such as Bain Capital and Trident Capital, as well as regional and local investors.
“I think you’re born an entrepreneur, it’s a trait, an attitude—someone who likes high risk, and creativity,” he says. “I’ve been involved in a lot of entrepreneurial activities over the years, and those experiences have given me a unique set of skills. Entrepreneurs may have raw energy and an appetite for risk, but they need advice—and that’s the value proposition I bring.”
On July 1, Bennett launched a new venture in Birmingham: MJBennett PLLC: Strategic Legal and Advisory Services, offering what he terms an “entrepreneur-entrepreneur” (e2e) perspective.
Success in business is a cornerstone of the American dream—but there are plenty of road bumps, says Bennett. “It always takes longer, and requires more capital, than originally thought,” he notes.
With his unique perspective, garnered from three decades in law and business, Bennett offers strategic planning, innovation guidance, product development, venture capital financing support, new market development, and merger & acquisition guidance, all customized tailored to each client’s needs.
He also offers Outsourced General Counsel (OGC) services, with cost-effective legal services.
“My resources include financial professionals, IT professionals, a creative team, IP attorneys, social media experts among others—my entrepreneurial clients may not be able to afford to start hiring right away, but I can help them build a team to get them to the next stage.
There is often a disconnect between business issues and legal needs. I help bridge that gap”
Unfortunately, there are always losers in business plans, he says. “People need to realize when things are going wrong, and tweak their business plan, learn to do things in new ways, and get on track. I have the ability to understand and integrate business and law, and the critical thinking approach I learned in law school.
“And I like a lot of variety in clients and companies. But I don’t want to just build a client list quickly—I want long-term client relationships.”
An aspiring entrepreneur from an early age, Bennett earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Michigan State University.
“I was raised in a home with small business values—my dad was in the drugstore business,” he says. “I was always interested in business, society, and politics—economics rolls it together. MSU offered small classes, and it was a good match for me.”
After graduating, he spent two years in commercial real estate and contemplated doing an MBA program, before heading to Wayne State University Law School.
“I felt law offered a broader skill set, whether I went into law practice or did something else—it would give me flexibility,” he says.
While still in law school, he founded Toxicheck—which later merged with Environmental Data Resources Inc.—an information services company which helps the real estate industry avoid environmental liability. The company reached $50 million in sales before being sold to a DMGT, a UK-based media conglomerate.
Next up he was founder, chairman and investor at Sandbox Ventures, LLC—an angel fund and Internet incubator created to form several Internet consumer marketing and business-to-business concerns. Over a four-year period, Sandbox raised and invested over $12 million in multiple ventures.
He was founder and managing director of Pembroke Venture Partners, LLC, a private equity group focused on funding opportunities in the Internet, commercial real estate, building energy efficiency and retail market sectors. Projects included a nationwide auto dealer consolidation program and a national restaurant chain expansion plan for a major metropolitan market. He co-founded Sustainable Real Estate Solutions, an Internet-based, software-as-a-service workflow platform enabling real estate industry stakeholders to assess, benchmark and optimize the energy and sustainability performance of their properties.
In 2007, Bennett joined Miller Canfield, where he established the Climate Law Practice Team, counseling clients on legal, business strategy and economic development issues, including carbon finance, renewable energy, green building and sustainable development.
“I was looking for something to differentiate myself, and this was a new, unique, emerging field, “ he says. “It was an amalgam of energy law, real estate law, and public law—Miller Canfield was early and unique in this area. It was an excellent way to integrate with the firm and helped it competitively. We had a lot of start-up companies and corporate spin-offs needing help, and this was a good match for me.
“Miller Canfield has been very supportive of my new venture, beyond my expectations,” he says, adding that he will continue to have close ties with the firm.
Bennett was instrumental in forming Lean and Green Michigan, a consortium of organizations establishing a marketplace for energy efficiency financing in Michigan including implementation of the state’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Public Act 270 of 2010. He is actively involved in creating the PACE marketplace on a nationwide basis.
Bennett, who strives for green practices in his home and office, is unfazed by this year’s unusual weather patterns.
“One year does not a millennium make,’ he says. “Don’t politicize global warming. Focus more on economics—there’s a huge amount of money to be saved.”
Married with two teen-age children, Bennett enjoys spending time with family, politics, sailing, and travel—Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada, is a favorite spot, as is the northeast United States, and he recently enjoyed a trip to Boston.
A long-term resident of Oakland County, Bennett is pleased to see the resurgence of southeast Michigan and the Greater Detroit area, and delighted that Motor City is actively attracting youth from around the world.
“The Detroit area is gaining significant momentum, the nucleus in downtown and midtown shows significant activity, there’s a sense of vision, and young people are coming back to the city,” he says. “At some point the naysayers have to stop—we’re the ‘Comeback City.’”