Startups grow from communities friendly to entrepreneurs

Create a culture that helps ideas become businesses

Start Garden has always embodied the principal that to learn anything, you have to do something. We continue to try new things, learn from them and adapt the organization. The goal always is to establish a culture of entrepreneurship and invest whatever we can into that culture.


Start Garden launches a $15,000,000 fund to rapidly accelerate experimentation, risk-taking and investment into very early stage startups. The “stairstep” approach is to invest $5,000 into ideas every week, $20,000 each month to further incubate some of those ideas, and up to $500,000 available to invest any single startup.

In the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Start Garden takes up residence in a storefront to be an accessible destination for entrepreneurs and idea people.


The pipeline of potential startups incubating between $5,000-$50,000 is perpetually full even as many projects churn out. Start Garden makes its first $500,000 investment into Blue Medora.

Launched with the belief that every startup needs at least three forms of capital—financial, intellectual and social—Start Garden continues to discover how our region’s capital is differentiated from others.


After two years of awarding $5,000 investments to two ideas each week (one based on a public vote) Start Garden reduces the $5,000 distribution to one a week. A growing portfolio of companies with $100,000-$500,000 in investment pushes Start Garden to change strategy around how it will keep pace with its existing startups.


The relocation to 40 Pearl, a 16,000 sqf space designed to be downtown’s “startup neighborhood,” kicks off several fundamental changes. Many startups move into the new space to work alongside the portfolio team. To direct more resources in the existing portfolio, Start Garden ceases the $5,000-$20,000 process and brings back 5x5 Night, a $5,000 monthly pitch competition. Promotional efforts focus nationally on drawing investment interest to Michigan.

The Seamless Accelerator launches with a cohort of eight international startups working with six industry leading enterprises to develop Internet of Things technologies in the space of home, automotive, office, medical and retail.


The vision to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem expands, even as the focus of the venture capital fund narrows. Start Garden separates into three different entities.

The for-profit fund, now called Wakestream, continues to participate at higher and higher levels as portfolio companies raise multi-million dollar rounds.

Start Garden re-organizes as a Michigan not-for-profit to enable it to take a more holistic approach to culture building, called the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Initiative. Without the obligation of being a venture capital fund, Start Garden could serve small businesses and community building efforts that directly effect entrepreneurship as a whole, not just a portfolio of startups. The new entity holds contracts with both the public sector (managing the Grand Rapids SmartZone) and private sector (managing Seamless IoT and philanthropic efforts to spur entrepreneurship).

A 501c3, formerly known as eMerge West Michigan, is renamed Start Garden Foundation to continue it’s mandate to serve new startups regionally and innovate on how to better serve first-time entrepreneurs in underserved communities.


Seeking to build a system that breaks from historical disparities in entrepreneurship and supports all aspiring business owners, Start Garden changes its leadership to a shared power structure. Hiring economic development leaders Darel Ross II (former co-executive director of Linc Up) and Jorge Gonzalez (former executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce), they join as co-leaders with Mike Morin and Paul Moore to ensure all work, whether in high tech or neighborhood business development, has equitable outcomes. 

Relaunching 5x5 Night, a monthly pitch competition that gives away a $5,000 grant to the winner, and partnering with organizations in other communities to host results in a nine-month streak of events where all grants are awarded to women and minority owned businesses.