Sowing the Seeds of Rural Entrepreneurship

Illustration of farmland with rolling green fields, farm buildings and houses, and energy windmills in the distance.

The path from software developer to manager of the Rural Entrepreneurship Program in the Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic (L&E) at University of Wisconsin Law School may not seem like an obvious one. But for clinical professor Jeffrey Glazer, it all makes sense.

Glazer began coding at the age of 8, chose the University of Toledo to study industrial engineering, and left with a degree in operations management and information systems. The internet was just taking off, however, and he quickly fell into a career as a programmer, developing online systems for Fortune 500 companies like KeyBank and Owens Corning.

Yet Glazer had long harbored an interest in law school. So, when it looked as if the first Internet bubble was about to burst, he picked up an MBA at the University of Akron and a J.D. at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Much of Glazer’s early work focused on tech startups and intellectual property. But when he moved to Madison with his wife in 2007, he didn’t have a legal job lined up and had to fall back on his own entrepreneurial skills: He created a blog, Madison Beer Review, dedicated to his favorite beverage; cofounded Madison Craft Beer Week; and founded a solo practice focused on the food and beverage industry.

When he joined the L&E Clinic as a part-time clinical instructor in 2011, it was mostly to inject stable employment into the mix. But the clinic’s mission of providing free legal services to nascent entrepreneurs and early-stage companies struck a chord: The startup founders Glazer had previously worked with often faced problems like bankruptcies and receiverships that could have been avoided entirely if they’d received sound legal advice early on.

A photo of Jeffrey Glazer standing in front of a green circle graphic.
Jeffrey Glazer

“That kind of education and discussion is really what we do here at the L&E Clinic,” said Glazer, who created the clinic’s IP Practice Group.

In 2019, with farm closures surging and the state bar association sounding the alarm over the lack of lawyers in rural Wisconsin, Glazer realized rural entrepreneurs were facing a fundamental shift in their economic landscape without the benefit of legal guidance. The L&E Clinic already had programs in place to meet the needs of underserved urban entrepreneurs, including partnerships with organizations such as the Urban League and the Progress Center for Black Women. Glazer created the Rural Entrepreneurship Program to do the same for small business owners beyond Madison and Milwaukee.

Glazer and his students crisscross the state making presentations and holding office hours for rural entrepreneurs wherever they may be. Their clients range from farmers making the shift to agritourism — or as Glazer puts it, “transitioning the farm to something other than just farming”— to Main Street business owners and videogame developers. They also help municipalities understand the statutory rules governing broadband deployment so they can improve local Internet access; explain the inner workings of cooperatives to trade organizations so they can organize more effectively; and train staff at service providers all across Wisconsin, like University of Wisconsin–Madison Extension County Offices and Small Business Development Centers, to recognize basic legal issues so they can refer potential clients to the clinic.

By its nature, the program serves as a pipeline development tool to identify and support students who want to practice in rural areas.

Glazer said, “I have raised my hand and said to any law student in the school who is interested in working in a rural community, ‘Tell me where you want to work. I will introduce you to the leaders of that community. I will introduce you to the service providers in that community. I will introduce you to other lawyers in that community. I will make sure that if you want to work in that community, you will be a rock star there by the time you leave.’”

“The students need somebody there saying, ‘You can do this,’” he added, pointing out that many of them feel pressure, financial and otherwise, to find jobs at big-city firms. “The problems are interesting, the people are interesting and there’s plenty of work here for them.”


By Alexander Gelfand