Your official source for all Start Garden related news

Statement from Start Garden

Posted on by Natalie Topalian, filed under Press Releases

Start Garden’s response to events sparked by the death of George Floyd.

America has a race issue. What is happening is rooted in race and has been building for a very long time. Everyone can have different opinions about the effects and effectiveness of the protests, which is normal - but what our community, our state, and nation can no longer afford its differing opinions on what got us here.

However, the immediate sense of chaos is only a step toward entering a new landscape.

  1. Start Garden’s work continues to be about economic opportunities for all. In fact, the protests only amplify what an economy looks like when access to those opportunities is asymmetrical along lines of race.
  2. The new landscape must include opportunities for all entrepreneurs to rethink, reset and build something new.
  3. We must move forward together. Economic Development must focus on robust Ecosystem Building - restructuring the economic systems that have failed to reach and build wealth in most of our communities.

Only six months into 2020, it’s shaping up to be a watershed year. One of those years--like 1619, 1776 or 1968--when all the years that come after it are changed. It’s in our hands to build an equitable economy previous generations have only dreamt about.

As always, we view entrepreneurship and wealth creation as the most important lever to reverse historical marginalization and unlock an incalculable economic resource for the future. Let’s step into the future together.

There have been 0 Replies

Announcing The 100 Comeback Fund for Entrepreneurs

Posted on by Paul Moore, filed under Press Releases

Press Release - Updated

Start Garden adapts Michigan’s most popular business competition to support entrepreneurs who have been forced to shut down by COVID-19.
The 100 Comeback Fund provides $300,000 in small grants dedicated to individual entrepreneurs and their families as they make their comeback.

(GRAND RAPIDS, MI) Apr 3, 2020 – An organization known for funding new business ideas through the Start Garden 100 has adapted this competition to relieve entrepreneurs whose businesses are critically impacted by COVID-19. Today, Start Garden launched The 100 Comeback with $300,000 of its own money to provide grants for qualified entrepreneurs who can then use the money to support themselves and their families and stay safe and work to make their comeback. 

Start Garden stresses that The 100 Comeback is not a small business relief fund, but rather a grant to support the personal needs of entrepreneurs, so they can regroup and adapt during this unprecedented time.

Entrepreneurs can learn more or submit an application online at between Tuesday, April 7 at 8:00AM until Saturday, April 11 at noon. Individuals and organizations wishing to contribute to The 100 Comeback also can do so on the website.

“Our community, our residents and Entrepreneurship itself is in crisis right now,” said Jorge Gonzalez, Start Garden co-director. “While most federal and state relief is about  businesses and their employees, none address the entrepreneurs who didn't have the time to grow their business to the point that their own families are supported for the next few months.”
For our entrepreneur community, their problem solving, determination and creativity is incredible to see right now. Many just didn't have enough time to grow their business to weather this storm. New entrepreneurs often defer paying themselves in order to grow their business and they can’t lay themselves off. Almost all federal and state small business relief comes in the form of loans, and many new businesses can’t risk the additional leverage.

As the pandemic continued to make headlines and creep its way into West Michigan, Start Garden leaders huddled to discuss how to respond to the reality that the impact on entrepreneurs will last months, with ripple effects lasting perhaps years. Their biggest initiative, currently underway, was the annual Start Garden 100, which provides $300,000 in prize money to 100 new ideas. The 2020 version of the event was recently announced and submissions were well underway.

“It wouldn’t be right for Start Garden to award funds to new business ideas while a generation of entrepreneurs gets knocked down, not knowing if they can get back up,” said Start Garden co-director Paul Moore. “We exist to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem. To not do this would feel like we’re turning our backs on our risk-takers when they need us most.”

Start Garden officials hope the idea catches on in the business and philanthropic community and more funds can be added to the initial amount.

“West Michigan has a big heart, so we hope this idea sparks interest from those who can help out,” said Start Garden Program Director, Laurie Supinski. “We’re making calls, but we also invite individuals and corporations to contact us.”

Who qualifies for The 100 Comeback Fund?
Current business owners who:

  • Have a demonstrated personal need
  • Can verify their business was shut down, or severely impacted, as a result of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders
  • Can verify the business has a loyal customer base
  • Is located (or has a registered addresses) in Kent County or has been selected in the past to participate in the Start Garden 100 or 5x5 Night (Updated 04/06/2020)

Any business that fits the above criteria is encouraged to apply. Furthermore, additional allocations are available for minority- and women-owned businesses and tech companies that are connected with the Grand Rapids SmartZone.

How do entrepreneurs apply?
All applications must be submitted between Tuesday, April 7, starting at 8:00AM to Saturday, April 11, at noon EDT. First, entrepreneurs can register at There, they record and upload a 100 second video that answers 3 simple questions:

  1. What does your household need to get through the next few months? (You are not obligated to open your business right away. Instead, take the time needed to be safe, navigate this new business landscape and plan for the future.)
  2. Share a little about your business: How long has it been open? What do you do? Who are your customers?
  3. How has the COVID-19 shut down impacted you/your business?

“The funds we provide are not expected to be repaid, nor are we expecting any investment or favors from anyone,” said Start Garden co-director Darel Ross II. “No entrepreneur should be worried about safety and shelter for their family, while carrying the burden to figure out how to reopen and rehire when the dust settles.”

“Although Start Garden has always been about getting new ideas and aspiring entrepreneurs off the ground, the reality is, entrepreneurship itself is going to be a disaster area if we don’t step in and support them during this difficult period,” said Start Garden Program Director, Laurie Supinki. “We need local and diverse entrepreneurs to stay strong for the spirit of entrepreneurship to stay alive.”

Anyone interested in contributing or learning more about The 100 Comeback Fund can contact Laurie Supinski, Program Director & Belen Salas, Program Assistant or visit

There have been 0 Replies

Resources for Entrepreneurs During the COVID-19 Crisis

Posted on by Hayley Smith,

Entrepreneurship is never an easy endeavor—but navigating self-employment and business ownership during these unprecedented times is especially challenging. Our mission is to provide opportunities for all current and aspiring entrepreneurs, and Start Garden has collected a comprehensive list of resources for entrepreneurs to consult to help them navigate the issues they face amidst the COVID-19 crisis. We will add to this list as soon as new resources become available. If you know of a resource that is available but not listed here, please share with Murphy Ackerman


U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Assistance:

MI unemployment extention to self-employed:

MEDC Small Business Relief Program:

The Right Place Small Business Relief Grant:

Lakeshore Advantage:

Facebook Small Business Grants:

Grants Roundup:

Kauffman Foundation:

CASE at Duke Capital Relief Resource:

The Red Backpack Fund:

The Tech Startup Stabilization Fund:



Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Webinars:

Small Business Survival Plan:

Grand Rapids Chamber Coronavirus Toolkit:


Small Business Gift Certificates:

Varnum COVID-19 Resources:

GR Chamber Blog:

Detroit Chamber Business Resource Center:

Local Government Resources:

There have been 0 Replies

What’s up at Start Garden?

Posted on by Paul Moore,

What’s up at Start Garden? Thanks for asking! Like all of you, we're at Camp Coronavirus (aka our homes).


You can still submit an idea to 5x5 Night. It’s back in April (even if it’s a virtual version) and $5,000 is up for grabs!

Join one of our weekly Zoom events

Tuesday at 2:00PM - Emprendedorx con Start Garden
Grabación en vivo en Zoom. Sobreviviendo como emprendedor durante la crisis del Coronavirus

Wednesday at 7:00PM - Whiskey & Whine with Paul Moore & Darel Ross
Bring a drink and process what’s going on with other entrepreneurs. No webinar topics, no subject matter experts, just the stuff we’d be talking about if we could be at a bar together. (Usually when the best insights happen!)

Thursday at 10:00AM - The Juice with Laurie Supinki
A small group of entrepreneurs from different sectors get real about the highs, lows and freak outs of running a business right now.

To get a link to join one of our Zoom events…

Join our email list
Follow us Facebook  -  Twitter @startgarden -  Instagram @startgarden

There have been 0 Replies

UPDATE: 40 Pearl Work Space Closed

Posted on by Paul Moore, filed under Announcements

Effective Monday March 23, 2020. 

In compliance with Governor Gretchen Whitmer's executive order, the Start Garden coworking space at 40 Pearl is closed to the public until further notice. (The current time frame for the order is 3 weeks from today.)

As more businesses and establishments are taking precautions due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, it is imperative that we all do our best to work from home.

We hope this crisis is over soon. To are valued Start Garden members, we wish you all good health!

If you have any questions or concerns please contact Aris at

There have been 0 Replies

Temporary COVID-19 Policies

Posted on by Paul Moore, filed under Announcements

Temporary COVID-19 Policies

March 11, 2020 - Effective Immediately. Implemented at Start Garden to mitigate the spread of the the COVID-19 virus in our startup community and the families they touch.

Please, participate with us in minimizing the effects of the virus by being pro-active early, not reactive later.

Start Garden will re-evaluate these policies weekly, if not daily, as more information is available about mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Tenants & Visitors @ 40 Pearl

Travel check all visitors & guests to identify if they have traveled in an infected area within the last 30 days.

Limit outside visitors & guests to 4 per meeting.

Work from home as your temporary default method of operation is strongly suggested.

Skype/Zoom/Google Hangouts/Conference calls as your temporary default meeting format is strongly suggested.

Hand sanitize & disinfect surfaces often & for others coming after you.

If any members or guests at 40 Pearl have traveled to an infected area in the last 30 days, please contact Aris Zervos immediately:

If any members or guests at 40 Pearl display flu-like symptoms, please contact Aris Zervos immediately:

Start Garden Management

All events within 40 Pearl have been temporarily suspended.

SG staff are prohibited from attending large events.

SG staff will default to working from home if work allows.

Anticipate 40 Pearl will have limited staffing temporarily.

There have been 0 Replies

The City and Start Garden Reach a Resolution

Posted on by Paul Moore, filed under Announcements

“Life is struggle.” I believe that within that quote lies the most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle.
― Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

When we build our city into an economic engine to create opportunity for everyone--regardless of your gender, race or zip code--Grand Rapids will be a successful economic development model for other cities to follow. We really believe that.

The Kauffman Foundation reports that for every 1 percent increase in the rate of new businesses started in a state, there is a 2 percent decline in the poverty rate. Whether it’s Forbes ranking Grand Rapids 51 out of 52 cities for African Americans to live or this Mlive article that only 1.5% of all economic development dollars were spent in an area where 33% of the population lives, the data validates self-evident truths:

  1. Doing things the way they’ve always been done in Grand Rapids is not an option.
  2. Making small changes to the way it’s always been doesn’t result in change at all.

Everyone can nod their heads at those statements. However, most people underestimate how hard it is to actually change.

In October, people reached out to Start Garden surprised by the MiBiz article, Grand Rapids, Start Garden seek to repair relationship. It summarized a contract dispute we were in the midst of with the Local Development Finance Authority and Office of Economic Development for the City of Grand Rapids. At the time, we were surprised by people’s surprise. We live in a time that demands big change and big change is never easy. So why is it a surprise when there is struggle?

This week, Grand Rapids, Start Garden hone SmartZone focus with proposed new contract, the much more positive follow up was published. The new contract referenced in the article was approved Friday, February 22. It took eight months, a lot of meetings and, at different times, everyone around the table seriously doubting we’d get to where we wanted to go.

This friction we worked to resolve is hard. It required all parties to sit at the table (literally), including representatives for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, City of Grand Rapids staff, Start Garden and a committee of LDFA board members committed to long, tense conversations. Often, the phrase was uttered, “Let’s not get lost in the weeds.” But the reality is, the weeds are where the work takes place. If we’re not willing to get into the weeds and make a better system, we’re passing this friction down to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Ecosystem development is about removing friction for wouldbe innovators and entrepreneurs that would leave, or never start in the first place, keeping the resulting wealth creation here today. To have the city we want in the future, we must fill it with opportunities today. It’s more about putting nutrients in the soil than sitting and waiting for plants to show up.

The question is how resilient are our leaders when change is a struggle? I’m pleased to say in this instance, we did what wasn’t easy because some key leaders in the community were willing to get stuck in the weeds and stay until we could find a better way.

There have been 0 Replies

Ecosystem Building in Grand Rapids’ Third Ward

Posted on by Paul Moore, filed under Community

The Oct 15 Mlive article publishing the results of Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative Project on economic development investments in Grand Rapids’ three wards is a snapshot of stark disparity (Grand Rapids' third ward being left behind in economic development). Unfortunately, it’s the most recent data point to validate a history of disparity in Grand Rapids when it comes to the Third Ward and its predominantly minority community. Beneath the surface, it also points toward an underlying problem in framing economic development work. This boils down to the misguided belief that a handful of people can predict winners and losers.

From 2012-2017, $1.29 billion (with a “b”) was invested across the three wards that comprise the City of Grand Rapids. Of that, only $19.4 million was invested into Third Ward. To put a sense of scale on it, let’s convert each dollar into one second of time. For 19,400,000 seconds to pass takes roughly 7.5 months. In Michigan, that’s about how long we complain about it being cold. For 1,290,000,000 seconds to pass... want to take a quick guess? Go ahead.

It takes more than 40 years for 1.29 billion seconds to pass. Did you guess that? Most people don't.

Ecosystem Building is an emerging field in economic development, which Start Garden is dedicated to furthering in Grand Rapids. It places innovators and entrepreneurs at the center, then works to change the community conditions surrounding them. Most critical to the work, it addresses economic development for those who create new value from scratch before the value is created. Not just investing in projects that are already considered high value from the beginning.

The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative Project is another data point on what happens when dollars flow to support projects already considered of high value. However, a good mix includes investing into high value projects while also investing into multiple on-ramps into business creation and growth. It targets neighborhoods and populations to seed a lot of entrepreurial activity, knowing that a few will bring high value development in years to come.

In the same week, the Kauffman Foundation’s Vice President of Entrepreneurship, Victor Hwang, published these questions to frame what bottom-up economic development looks like in, What if Everyone got a Fair Shot?

To create a blueprint for bottom-up economic development, let’s ask some "what if" questions:

  1. What if we focus on the little things that matter to millions of entrepreneurs, instead of the big things that matter to a handful of big players?
  2. What if starting a business required zero forms and zero fees?
  3. What if the energy that 238 cities expended on the Amazon HQ2 contest was invested instead into building their own entrepreneurs and innovators?
  4. What if more workforce training dollars were dedicated to help people start and grow their own businesses, instead of just teaching employees to fill roles in existing businesses?
  5. What if public school systems were redesigned to teach students how to make jobs, not just take jobs?
  6. What if borrowing $30,000 to start or grow a new business was easier than borrowing $30 million to grow a big one even bigger?

Start Garden’s “first domino” project was The 100. Seeding 100 aspiring entrepreneurs with $1,000 to compete to be among 10 to receive $20,000 to get a new business effort off the ground. We targeted every neighborhood, spent most of our marketing efforts in the historically under-represented Third Ward, and received submissions from across the demographic board. The final 100 were made up of 44% women, 53% minorities, 53% with an income of less than $50,000.

As the momentum that kicked off with The 100 continues, our long term strategy is for the seeds of that investment to grow into a handful of projects that draw significant development dollars within the Third Ward in years to come.

There have been 0 Replies

100 Ideas Top 100 Announcement

Posted on by TriciaJackson, filed under Announcements

In the first 100 days of 2018, anyone from anywhere in any language could submit a 100 second pitch to be chosen for Start Garden's 100 Ideas competition. All 100 participants will return to the Demo Day event on July 10 at 20 Monroe Live to make the case for why they should be among 10 chosen for another $20,000.

812 people registered to participate in the competition. 621 ideas were submitted via video to Below are the names of the 100 selected ideas in alphebetical order categorized by last name provided at the time of user account registration.

Destiny Adams
Nicole Albert
Damien Allen
Jessica Austin

Anna Baeten
Angel Barreto-Cruz
Cierra Barrera
Kabrina Bobo
Ignacio Bonet
Janay Brower
Rick Brown
Zoe Bruyn
Dave Bulkowski

Dillon Carney
Eli Cecil
Maxwell Chambers
Luis Chen
Dave Clahassey
David Clark
James Cooley
Ebony Cummings

Gilma De la Cruz
Michael Despres
David DeWinter
Brian Dokter
Stephanie Dolly

Carlos Esquivel

Justin Gauvin

Hew Hamilton
Trimell Hawkins
Omar Helferich
Luciano Hernandez
Liz Hilton
Glenn Hobbins
Cecelia Hughes
Michael Hyacinthe

Bobby Johnson
Samuel Jones

Destinee Keener
Brandon Kimble

Alysha Lach
Catlindt Landrum
Spencer Lebel
Kavy Lenon
Mark Love

Aaron Maatman
Clarissa Mata
Brandy McCallum
Beloved McCastle
Brannon McCarty
Eric McClain
Anthony McClora
Maggie McGuinness
Ash Middleton
James Mikrut
Kianna Morgan
Amanda Morton
Theresa Mosley

Michael Noble

Anthony Olivero
Andrea Owens

Sadoc Paredes
Kelsey Perdue
Calvin Pimpleton
Sarah Pitt
Sophia Prince
Kevin Pritchard

Angel Rafael
Christina Robinson
Ebony Robinson
Gabriela Rodriguez
Terry Rostic
Olivia Ruiz-Knott
Anna Ryan

Carl Sain
James Sanborn
Brent Saulic
Mike Sheehan
Brandy Sims
Zach Skogheim
Stephen Smith
Bridget Stenger

Alex Taylor
Randall Janine Thomas
LaKiya Thompson
Gabrielle Tremblay
John Trocke
Reed Turchetti

Jiatnna Valoy
Christina VanDam
Aaron VanderGalien
Becky Vandenbroek

Ariana Waller
Chris Walter
Lizzie Williams
Chris Winczewski
Charlie Woollborg

Kristine Yang
Tyler Yonker
Annie Young

There have been 0 Replies

Sign-Up Data Validates Disparities in Entrepreneurship

Posted on by TriciaJackson, filed under Press Releases


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., April 17, 2018 - The Start Garden team announced the results of the idea submission phase of the 100 Ideas initiative. In this first phase, the results show the entrepreneurial spirit and drive is more vibrant than the team thought.

For the last 100 days, anyone from anywhere in any language could submit a 100 second pitch to be chosen for a competition. The competition kicks off on April 24, when the 100 Ideas selected are announced. All 100 return to the July 10 Demo Day event to make the case for why they should be among 10 chosen for another $20,000.

Since launching the grassroots initiative on January 4 of this year, 812 people signed up to potentially participate in the competition. 621 ideas were submitted via video to the dedicated 100 Ideas website.

“We were overwhelmed with the response from the community,” said Jorge Gonzalez, Director of the program. “We knew people felt excluded from participating in entrepreneurship because of barriers to resources. Looking at the demographic data, the problem was bigger than we thought, especially for women, minorities and lower income families.”

The program was open to anyone 14 years or older interested in pitching their business idea for the opportunity to receive $1,000 seed funding to flesh out their concept/idea. In keeping with the goal of providing access to all individuals and neighborhoods, Start Garden held regular “pop-up” events at key neighborhood locations throughout the city.

According to Start Garden staff, the 812 individuals signed up to potentially participate in the competition.

  • Gender
    52%-male, 46%-female (remainder “self-described”)
  • Race/Ethnicity
    59%-Caucasian, 29%-African-American, 10%-Hispanic, 3%-Asian (remainder “other”)
  • Age
    22% - 14-24, 58% - 25-44, 19% - 45+ (remainder opted out)  

Income levels showed an equal distribution of participants, with those making less than $50,000 making up the majority at 57%.

“We knew aspiring entrepreneurs ‘bootstrap’ or borrow from friends and family when they’re working on a new idea, which means they need a cache of their own resources, or wealthy connections,” said Paul Moore, co-director of Start Garden. “The sign ups from 100 Ideas are very different from historical demographics on entrepreneurs: half were women, half minorities and half making less than $50,000 a year, confirming that there are a lot of people seeking access to capital to launch something new, but can’t find it.”

The 100 selected ideas will be invited to the July 10 Demo Day, where they will compete to be among 10 to receive another $20,000 to continue building their ideas. The public is invited - and encouraged - to attend this event.

The announcement of the 100 ideas selected will take place on April 24 at Start Garden, immediately following the monthly 5x5 Night pitch competition and will be live-streamed via Facebook at And on April 25, the presenters of the 100 selected ideas will be required to attend a private winner's event, where they will receive their $1,000 check; information on the community resources that can help them prepare for Demo Day; and receive instructions and criteria on what to expect and prepare for at the Demo Day

The Demo Day will take place on July 10, from 5:30-8:30 p.m., at 20 Monroe Live, 11 Ottawa Ave NW in Grand Rapids.

“We opened the gates for all to participate in this important entrepreneurial endeavor, and the community responded,” added Darel Ross, co-director at Start Garden. “This was a great start to what we envision as a multi-year commitment to West Michigan. We firmly believe that great businesses start with great ideas and that ideas shouldn't have neighborhood or zip code boundaries.”

The grants that go to the aspiring entrepreneurs are a first of its kind collaboration among the financial institutions in West Michigan and include the following:

  • Fifth Third Bank
  • Huntington Bank
  • Bank of America (Merrill Lynch)
  • PNC Bank
  • Flagstar Bank
  • Chemical Bank
  • Mercantile Bank
  • Lake Michigan Credit Union
  • Choice One Bank
  • Macatawa Bank
  • Economic Development Foundation

More information can be found at


# # #

Raul Alvarez
GTSD Group

There have been 0 Replies

Page 1 of 12