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Legal Center for Entrepreneurs with Low-Income

Inspiring ideas and abundant creativity motivate some people to start their own business.  For many entrepreneurs, the concept is easy but the logistics can be hard.  Even small businesses and self-employed business owners have to think about taxes, work space, non-profit or for-profit status, filing with the Secretary of State and more.

Entrepreneurship provides a powerful pathway out of poverty. Unfortunately, for those with low income, starting a business poses many challenges. Entrepreneurs with low-income often lack the financial resources and social capital needed to succeed, among other things.

Legal Aid's Center for Entrepreneurs with Low-Income began in November 2019.  The launch was supported by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland's Innovation Mission and the Thomas White Foundation.  The Center supports economic opportunity and a path out of poverty for people in Northeast Ohio by fostering, supporting and engaging with entrepreneurs with low-income working toward economic mobility and financial security.

This Center for Entrepreneurs with Low-Income works to address barriers to entrepreneurship by:

  • providing legal check-ups and legal services to income-eligible business owners
  • partnering with business development incubators to connect entrepreneurs with mentoring and other supports
  • providing education on common legal issues for entrepreneurs and self-employed people

I need help - how do I apply?

Entrepreneurs may apply to Legal Aid online, by telephone or in person. Click here to learn more and begin an application.

A businesses’ eligibility is determined based on the individual owner, who must be financially eligible, satisfy citizenship/immigration status requirements, and be the sole owner (or co-owner with spouse) of the business applying for assistance.  Legal Aid generally serves individuals with household income up to 200% of Federal Poverty Level.

What happens next?

 After the entrepreneur completes the intake process, Legal Aid staff conduct a short review of the business’ needs and readiness for legal services. The check-up covers:

    • Background about the business, when it was started, and whether the owner has a business plan
    • Assessing any barriers the entrepreneur has to devoting time to the business
    • Legal wellness of the business entity
    • Ownership/partnership issues
    • Taxes and registration with Ohio Department of Taxation
    • Employment issues
    • Regulatory compliance overview (licensing, etc.)
    • Intellectual property needs
    • Insurance, contracts, and record-keeping

If more services are needed after the legal checkup, Legal Aid may:

  • Refer the entrepreneur to business development partners for mentoring and help developing a business plan.
  • Provide brief advice by phone, virtually and/or in person.
  • Help with discreet legal representation (Legal Aid does not provide general counsel services).
  • Review for possible representation of eligible businesses sued in court (when owner cannot appear because the business is a corporation or limited liability company).

Community Education + Info Sessions

Legal Aid provides various "Know Your Rights" information sessions. Please click here to visit the "Events" page to learn more, or send inquiries to outreach (at)

No one can be successful while facing legal barriers to housing, food, shelter, and safety – and every new business has legal needs that must be addressed. With the legal assistance they need, local entrepreneurs will be supported in their quest to address unmet needs in their neighborhoods and will experience fewer legal stumbling blocks in the future when their business is firmly established.

updated 1/2024

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