How law firms foster innovation: MT>Ventures’ unique contribution to a rapidly evolving ecosystem

'Our view is that law firms should do more to support startups than providing tailored legal advice'

In the dynamic Canadian economy, innovation is the cornerstone of growth and competitiveness. Canada is facing a productivity crisis, with sluggish growth rates compared to our global counterparts. This challenge is further exacerbated by a noticeable lack of pre-seed capital in the market, making it difficult for startups and emerging companies to access the funding they need to innovate and scale. In this context, law firms should play a pivotal role in fostering growth. While law firms traditionally have been seen mostly as facilitators (and sometimes inhibitors) of business operations, MT>Ventures is uniquely placed to play strategic, structural, and developmental roles in the innovation ecosystem.

More often than not, founders, venture capitalists, and ecosystem partners look to lawyers to navigate the complex regulatory maze. Lawyers are called on to support founders with company formation, business structure, and to advise on compliance issues. MT>Ventures has made a significant impact supporting startups as they seek growth in highly regulated industries. Relying on the breadth and depth of McCarthy Tétrault, MT>Ventures routinely deploys specialists in the areas of proptech, fintech, healthtech, and other disciplines to navigate the multifaceted regulatory landscape growth companies face. Paradoxically, in a market where an increasingly large number of VCs and founders are former lawyers, law firms are still often seen as a transactional means to an end, rather than a foundational element to success.

Our view is that law firms should do more to support startups than providing tailored legal advice. They should also be a strategic growth partner. Innovation occurs at the intersection of industries. Lawyers and law firms are uniquely placed to bridge the gaps between various industries and disciplines and play a strong role in facilitating collaborations that otherwise might not occur. Law firms maintain extensive networks that include not just clients but also regulators, industry leaders, law makers, and other stakeholders. These networks can be leveraged to facilitate partnerships that might not occur in the normal course of business. MT>Ventures connects startups with potential investors, established companies with innovative tech entrepreneurs, and founders with lawmakers and legislators.

Innovation inherently carries risk – especially when disrupting traditional industries. Founders will take those risks regardless of the perceived legal barriers. For example, Google’s approach to organizing the world's information presented various legal challenges, particularly in terms of copyright and privacy laws in its early days.  Uber’s reliance on non-professional drivers using their own vehicles to transport passengers faced scrutiny from regulators and traditional taxi services.  As these companies pressed on, it is easy to imagine the conversations that took place with lawyers around these substantial risks. In my own experience at Figure 1 (a Canadian healthcare information company), outside counsel was quick to push back on innovative ideas from the business units. As Senior Director of Legal & Corporate Affairs, it became apparent very early on that my responsibility was not only to understand strategic risks but also to help formulate solutions to enabled the business to operate dynamically within the bounds of the law.

At MT>Ventures, our approach to risk management is comprehensive, considering not just the immediate legal challenges but also long-term implications on business sustainability and market positioning. We are a team of lawyers who cut their teeth in startups or have exclusively served the needs of startups throughout their careers. We embrace the notion that building a startup comes with risks, and believe our role is to be ahead of those risks. We pride ourselves in being business enablers and trusted business advisors. To do this, we connect with our founders proactively to prepare them for various outcomes, thus minimizing surprises and enabling them to stay ahead in competitive, rapidly evolving industries. While most people generally avoid lawyers, our startup clients love our regular touchpoints as they enable the companies to discuss any upcoming challenges and potential opportunities.

We take a holistic view of the market. Our strategic role in the innovation ecosystem extends beyond any single startup mandate. We are uniquely positioned to advocate for legal and regulatory reforms that can benefit the innovation economy. MT>Ventures has an active role at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Canada’s largest, most influential Provincial Chamber. This involves participating in roundtables, consultations, and debates about legislation and regulation that affect our portfolio companies, emerging technologies, and the innovation economy as a whole. By working with policymakers, law firms help shape policies that support innovation and balance the needs of the traditional economy with those of the new economy. Law firm participation in industry associations ensures that legal perspectives are considered in the development of industry guidelines and legislative changes, which can have significant implications for clients.

As any entrepreneur will tell you, knowledge is power. In a world where information is abundant, discerning fact from fiction is a competitive advantage. As lawyers, we are uniquely placed to educate entrepreneurs and business leaders about the legal aspects of running a business. By empowering startup founders with knowledge, law firms help create a more informed business community that can better navigate the challenges of innovation. MT>Ventures seeks to democratize access to knowledge by demystifying complex legal agreements and regulations, thereby empowering ecosystem players to make savvy decisions.

By pushing for reforms that make legal documents and procedures more straightforward, law firms contribute to an environment where legal information is more accessible. This frees up time and space for both lawyers and innovators to focus on the strategic and existential problems at hand.

Beyond any specific corporate, commercial, or regulatory mandate, law firms play a critical role in enhancing Canada's productivity and innovation landscape, and building future prosperity here in Canada. The support offered by legal professionals helps ensure that the innovation ecosystem is not only vibrant and dynamic but also stable and sustainable. At MT>Ventures, we play a unique role in the Canadian economy by continuously re-imaging the role of a traditional law firm.


Aliya Ramji is a partner of McCarthy Tétrault and co-founder of MT>Ventures, a wholly-owned division of the firm. Based in Toronto, Aliya is focused exclusively on startups, scale-ups and other fast-growth businesses. In addition to delivering tailored legal advice and other strategic value to high-potential businesses in the startup or scale-up phase, Aliya regularly advises venture capital, angel and strategic investors, as well as parties looking to create strategic alliances or partnerships with founders or start-ups.

Prior to joining the Firm, Aliya was Senior Director, Legal and Corporate Affairs, at Figure1, a highly successful med-tech startup for health care professionals. Aliya delivered diverse legal and business advice, supporting Figure1 through global expansion to more than 100 countries, various strategic alliances, multiple rounds of venture capital financing, and a host of privacy, data governance and complex regulatory matters.

Aliya is immersed in Canada’s vibrant startup sector, with particularly deep roots with founders, investors, incubators and academic programs in Toronto, Waterloo, Ottawa and Hamilton. Aliya brings a rare blend of technical legal expertise and business acumen, always underscored by a highly practical and results-oriented mindset. She “speaks the language” of startups and has a proven track-record of helping founders and investors seize opportunities, navigate challenges and grow successful businesses.

Aliya is a recognized leader in the startup space. In 2016, Aliya was named one of the "Top 10 Thirty-Somethings" by the Association of Corporate Counsel and the "Young Alumni of Influence" by the University of Toronto, University College. In 2022, MT>Ventures and Aliya were recognized by Precedent Magazine with an Innovation Award for their involvement in the DMZ’s Startup Legal Support program. Most recently, Aliya was awarded DMZ's 2023 Women of the Year, an award recognizing inspirational women who have made remarkable contributions to the tech ecosystem. This award was granted to 18 recipients of over 800 nominees.


Aliya Ramji