Behind the scenes at Start Garden
Mike is a seasoned business strategist. With a past in physical product and digital business startups, he serves as Chief Executive Officer of Start Garden. Additionally, he is President of the Start Garden Foundation, Director of Seamless IoT Commercialization Program and Portfolio Relations at Wakestream Ventures. Prior, Mike founded SeeSpotRun.com, KnowearInc.com, and Code Blue Corporation, also served as Mentor Director for Momentum, COO at Boxed Water and TheCommon, and Sr. Business Advisor at Windquest Group. Mike holds BA and MBA degrees from Michigan State University’s Broad School of Business. You can find Mike spending time with his wife Karyl and their two daughters in Holland or working on projects in rural Guatemala.
Paul loves stories. Every business tells one and some are great. His twenties started in art, then went to filmmaking and wound up in marketing, where he realized all along he was prototyping things he found socially interesting. He’s worked with Rick DeVos since 2005 when they started Spout.com, then ArtPrize, 5×5 Night, and Start Garden. As Marketing Director on the original ArtPrize team, he helped launch an event that both enamored and appalled the art world. He has a Masters of Design Methods from the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. You can find Paul in Eastown with his wife, Kristen, and their three kids.
A Grand Rapids native holding a degree in Public Administration and minors in both Business and Sociology from GVSU, Jorge joins the Start Garden team in 2017 from his time as Executive Director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Prior to that, he was at LINC UP as the Director of Economic Development for four years and has 15 years of experience in the banking industry. His last banking position was as VP of Community Development from 2005 to 2010. Gonzalez has been married for 18 years and has five children. In his spare time he enjoys running, occasional golf, spending time with friends and family.
Darel Ross II
Indicative of the rooted connection to the neighborhood where he was raised, Darel first began his entrepreneurial career opening an insurance agency in Southeast Grand Rapids. For more than nine years Darel served LINC’s Board of Directors as Treasurer, and most recently as the organization’s Co-Executive Director, serving a critical role that brings together housing, economic development, essential needs services, business incubation and real estate development serving Kent County. Through his leadership, Ross has helped secure over $67 million in funding for community improvement efforts resulting in over 300 families increasing their assets, training over 600 residents, improving over 750 homes and creating over 120 full-time jobs.
Seamless IoT Director
Amanda is a true New Yorker-straight forward with a bit of sass. With a past in business incubator & accelerator management, program development, event planning and marketing, she carries her strengths within the Start Garden team recruiting startups, expanding our network, and working with our sponsors. Amanda leads the charge on the Seamless IoT Commercialization Program, serving as Director. Amanda’s past projects within the ecosystem include Momentum and 5×5 Night. An entrepreneur at heart, she has launched a number of her own ventures and has over 20 years of entrepreneurial and business management experience. You can usually find Amanda at various events around town or in her basement doing P90X.
A native New Yorker who also spent time as a lobbyist in Washington D.C., Laurie eventually landed in the Midwest running a Bed & Breakfast on the Muskegon River with her family. Through her experience with the Newaygo County Economic Development Office, Laurie found her passion connecting entrepreneurs to the resources in West Michigan, leading to her previous role at Emerge WM. Now at Start Garden, her ability to connect people to the vast resources available within the community has proven to be her calling. When not at home making her famous eggs benedict, you can find Laurie traveling to Philadelphia to watch her son play college soccer.
Kaylee organizes. As Project Manager, she works to bring experiences to Start Garden. Post-graduation, Kaylee spent a year in AmeriCorps aiding those affected by natural disasters at the Red Cross Greater Carolinas Chapter. Upon returning to the Midwest she worked as Project Manager for C2 Media Productions and later joined the team at Pomegranate Studios working on projects such as ArtPrize and 5×5 Night. She’s a blogger, a published writer and sits on the advisory board of the International FPIES Foundation. You can often find Kaylee reading, cooking, and celebrating life through dance parties with her daughter, Bella.
Kara crunches numbers. She moved to Grand Rapids to attend Grand Valley State University where she earned a Bachelors in Accounting. During her time at Grand Valley State University she played lacrosse and held a board position within her team. She interned with Start Garden for a year and half and joined the Start Garden team full-time in November of 2014. You can find Kara snowboarding in the winter and on the beaches in the summer, and she loves a good beer at one of Grand Rapids many local breweries. In 2016, Kara committed to participate in the annual Marine Corps Marathon, her first (and probably not her last).
Tricia is a storyteller. In Digital Communications, she leads in building Start Garden’s online presence, ensuring the brand message is consistent throughout all program initiatives. Her passion for branding and her experience in marketing startups and small businesses made the addition of her role a natural fit. Having been active in small business development while living in Denver during the city’s urban development era, Tricia is a strong advocate for growth within the Grand Rapids community. When Tricia unplugs from technology, you can find her on the sidelines at a Grand Rapids Drive game as she considers herself to be the team’s number one fan.
Originally from Metro-Detroit, Aris graduated GVSU with a B.B.A in Finance. Beginning a rental business in college, he steadily found an appreciation for home-renovation, urban development, and real estate in the Grand Rapids area. He interned with Start Garden for a year and joined the Start Garden team full-time in 2016 managing The Space and working as an analyst for Start Garden’s IoT commercialization program, Seamless. You can find Aris exploring the local craft beer scene, playing soccer, or perfecting his Yia-Yia’s spanakopita recipe in the kitchen.
As the Grant Manager, Erica manages and coordinates overall review of contracts and grant agreements. Erica brings a passion for engaging in efforts towards the renewal of human societies, participating in initiatives ranging from grassroots community nonprofit to organizing around human rights issues. She has worked over a decade in the nonprofit settings in various administrative roles. Erica enjoys connecting vision to results through a system of collaborative approaches, generating effective strategies. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, watching DIY shows and visiting different zoos.
Belen (sounds like Helen, but with a B), originally from Mexico and eventually made Grand Rapids her home. Belen loves community work and advocacy. Most recently, she served as the Administrative Assistant at the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Prior to that she worked at Linc Up as a Community Liaison, and that is where she found her passion, which is helping the community and hispanic businesses. Belen loves to try new foods and one of her favorites is Ethiopian food. If there is music you can find Belen dancing her day away.