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Legal Hacking for Startups with Donna Petkanics

  • Jul 18, 2014 · 7:00 PM
  • This location is shown only to members

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Get Legal advice for your startup with Donna Petkanics. Learn how not to get tripped up on legal matters while setting up your startup. 

Donna Petkanics was named by the Silicon Valley Business Journal as a "Woman of Influence," 2013 and honored by The Recorder as one of the "Women Leaders in Technology Law," 2013.

Petkanics has provided legal counsel to some of the country's most innovative technology companies. She has represented hundreds of startups and advised companies and underwriters in more than 65 public offerings during the course of her career. In addition, she has served in a number of management positions during her tenure at Wilson Sonsini and is a founding member of the firm's Women's Initiative Network.

Corporate Finance
Corporate Law & Governance
Energy Innovation & Clean Technology
Entrepreneurial Services
Life Sciences
Mergers & Acquisitions
Venture Capital


Donna Petkanics is a partner in the Palo Alto office of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. Her law practice focuses on the representation of growth companies, with a particular emphasis on corporate and securities issues. She represents both privately held and public companies across a broad range of industries, including telecommunications, Internet infrastructure, networking, life sciences, computer software and hardware, clean technology and energy, and electronics. She has experience representing companies in many types of corporate transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, initial public offerings, and joint ventures. She also counsels clients who are starting new businesses with respect to general corporate matters and protection of their intellectual property.

During her tenure at the firm, Donna has served in a number of management positions, including managing director of operations and chair of the Operations Committee from 2000 to 2006; member of the firm's board of directors, Policy Committee, and Compensation Committee; associate managing partner of the firm; and co-chair of the Hiring Committee and Nominating Committee. She served on the board of directors of the Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation from 2000 to 2010.

Prior to attending law school, Donna was a staff economist in the Executive Office of the President during Jimmy Carter's administration and also worked for the House of Representatives. She began practicing at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in 1985.


In the course of her career, Donna has represented companies and underwriters in more than 65 public offerings

Public companies Donna has represented include Agilent Technologies, Calgene, Catalytica Energy Systems, Cell Genesys, Cypress Semiconductor, Foundation Health, Hewlett-Packard, LoudCloud, Pacific Biosciences, PMC-Sierra, Solectron Corporation, Sun Microsystems, and Zilog


Trustee, UC Berkeley Foundation [masked])

Member, Board of Advisors, Stanford Community Law Clinic [masked])

Member, Board of Visitors, Northwestern University, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (2003-present)

Member, Northwestern University San Francisco Bay Area Leadership Council (2008-present)

Co-chair, Northwestern University San Francisco Bay Area Leadership Council [masked])

Chair, Committee on Realizing Business Potential, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award [masked])

National Judge, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award [masked])

Judge, Clean Tech Open [masked])

Director, Fresh Lifelines for Youth


Donna is a frequent guest speaker on matters relating to practice management, firm governance, corporate governance, executive compensation, and venture capital trends

Lecturer, Berkeley Law, University of California, Berkeley - Venture Capital and Initial Public Offerings (Spring Semesters[masked])



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  • Cynthia L.

    Donna's session was very engaging. I learned a lot from the presentation and Q & A. It's interesting the hear the questions people have on their ventures and learn the advice from Donna's professional experience.

    July 24, 2014

  • Barry

    That referenced quote uses imbedded false declarations of fact that are seem through by people who have significant Angel level funding from well respected, accredited Angel fund groups, and are operating businesses bordering on profitability.
    That quote is what convinced me that she had a bias.
    When a business is ready for full VC, multimillion dollar investments, you may be, in a better position to be a corporation with the liabilities of a board and advantages of a stock and option structure.
    Let's not degrade this to blind defences of a presenter who made statements that people see through who are succeeding on the other side of what she is saying, and are not exceptional special cases.
    The speaker made statements that some of us recognized as controversial. The organizer sends out emails asking us to post our feedback, so I did.
    Those making uninformed replies will see differently after you go through the funding and business formation process with high level investors.

    July 23, 2014

  • Shailesh D.

    This is the second time I have heard Donna speak, and as before, her talk and the advice she had for us was great. I have to applaud her patience, given the number and nature of questions that were thrown at her by the audience (some of which I have to say were borderline absurd)!

    July 23, 2014

  • Chetan C.

    One bold takeaway for me was how it was absolutely necessary to keep traceability of decisions. Something that very often gets sidelined in the early days of working on an idea.

    July 23, 2014

  • Ruben R.

    As with all legal aspects, every case is usually unique in many ways. It was great that Donna took the time to answer to so many specific questions. Great speaker and great event!

    July 23, 2014

  • Gobind

    Found the session really helpful being a noob when it comes to law and how it impacts startups. Thanks for sharing the wisdom.

    July 23, 2014

  • Barry

    Honestly, I felt we some topics were presented with her business agenda in mind instead of giving unbiased information.
    The presentation everyone gave an overall statement that everyone should incorporate, and, by inference, hire her firm and pay them the billable hours for it.
    She demonstrated a bias against LLC's, whereas an LLC is clearly the preferred way to structure an initial business formation, for countless reasons which include not having a board. Her claims about costs versus legal fees to form a corporation when a venture is barely in business, and especially pre-funding, simply do not match the actual numbers for anyone who does the analysis first.
    I would love to see a panel discussion/ debate between her and Roger Royce on LLC versus corporation at various stages of a business's development.

    July 22, 2014

    • jim d.

      Here's why I agree with our speaker: If you're a typical local startup, you're going for a real business that will last for some time, and you're looking for investors. Law is fairly tough, and if you start with angel investors, they're not going to be experts either. So why confuse them? If you are truly losing money at first, which could be an argument for LLCs some people say, I don't believe you'll pay taxes for the corporation either. Our speaker clearly said, 'it's a case by case issue, to choose between an LLC and a corporation, and lawyers will be able to advise each of you." I support her advice and her years of experience, which says, most of us will end up choosing a corporation. And I don't feel comfortable with the comment above which suggest she is being unethical. In my opinion and my personal encounters with her, she is strongly ethical.

      1 · July 22, 2014

    • Raj L.

      I strongly disagree that she had a personal agenda for the session. I had personally taken her advice for one startup and she did not even billed us. She definitely is more focused on Startups who are looking for funding and investors, more companies which needs investment to scale. small businesses sometimes do better with LLC.

      July 22, 2014

  • Kejun X.

    Can someone make the slides available? Thanks a lot!

    July 19, 2014

  • Raj L.

    Photos of the event are here Join us at the Igniters facebook group and continue the conversation

    July 18, 2014

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