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The GRABB 5 Project

Posted on by TriciaJackson, filed under Press Releases


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., December 7, 2016 — Entrepreneurship in Grand Rapids' black population is noticeably underrepresented in the broader community. In 2015, Forbes magazine ranked Grand Rapids last out of 52 cities when measured against home ownership, median income and entrepreneurship in the African American community.  To begin resolving this disparity, Start Garden and Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) today announced they have partnered on a project, called GRABB 5, which will expand economic opportunity and entrepreneurship in the city’s black community.

The initial project, which is jointly funded through the Grand Rapids Economic Development Corporation and Start Garden, will accelerate five black-owned businesses at a time, with companies experimenting or “graduating” with other taking their place. The goal for the GRABB 5 project is to significantly expand the overall ecosystem and improve access to the capital that is essential to entrepreneurship.

“One of the greatest barriers to black people starting businesses is access to capital, specifically financial, but also participating in the social and intellectual aspects of an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Jamiel Robinson, founder of GRABB. “Start Garden and GRABB focus energy and resources around five entrepreneurs to learn where specific barriers exist and how to navigate them. We believe that if we can figure out how to accelerate five businesses, we can improve the state of entrepreneurship in the community as a whole.”

Founded in 2012, GRABB is recognized as a leader in economic equity in West Michigan. Since launching GRABB has assisted Black businesses with surviving, sustaining, and growing through a number of its initiatives and events.

GRABB 5 businesses can be any type of business from a tech company to neighborhood store.. Businesses will be selected based on four criteria:
They have been working with GRABB
They are operating and have customers
They have proven value to customers and validated opportunities to expand
There is evidence that they can be accelerating much faster than they currently are

The economy in Grand Rapids is growing, but for many in the community’s black community, that growth has not been realized. According to U.S. Census data, incomes for black residents in Grand Rapids have dropped since 2009, and median household income is less than half compared to white households. The plan for the GRABB 5 project is to accelerate more black business owners to increase economic opportunity.

“The question of ‘underserved’ populations is really a question of ‘unconnected’ populations. Lack of funding is not the only problem, we have to overcome the systemic problem which stems from a lack of relationships with people who don’t look like each other, and GRABB 5 is designed to understand and overcome those barriers,” said Mike Morin, president of Start Garden. “Since our founding, Start Garden has committed itself to expanding economic growth in West Michigan by increasing the financial, intellectual and social capital in the region. By taking small risks on capital, we can greatly expand opportunity for people in our region.”

Often, lack of access is cited as the biggest problem to black entrepreneurs. The GRABB 5 project is about learning what the ground level challenges are for five existing businesses and working on solutions. Although GRABB and Start Garden make up the core team for the GRABB 5 project, the goal is to expand the idea and inspire a collaborative effort within the broader community that supports entrepreneurship.

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Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) is a vehicle for economic development and empowerment within the Metro Grand Rapids Area. GRABB expands opportunities for Black businesses by assisting them with acquiring three forms of capital—social, intellectual and financial—and creating awareness for black-owned businesses. GRABB empowers meaningful and beneficial economic growth and sustainability. More at

About Start Garden
Start Garden is the epicenter of West Michigan’s startup ecosystem and administrator of the Grand Rapids SmartZone. The organization brings together financial, intellectual and social capital to entrepreneurs by connecting them to resources critical to their growth-stage. Start Garden advances the economy of Grand Rapids by establishing the area as a desired place for new businesses to begin. More at

Brian Burch
Start Garden

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Posted on by Paul Moore, filed under Announcements

In Spring 2016, TechShop kicked off a market assessment study for a potential Grand Rapids, MI location. Start Garden serves as the on-the-ground liaison for the TechShop assessment team.

TechShop is an open access, membership based, for-profit maker space that houses do-it-yourself (DIY) workshops and fabrication studios. Currently, there are nine locations in the U.S. and three locations worldwide. Multiple new stores are at various stages of development in locations around the world. Each new location requires a preliminary market assessment study.

Market assessment studies are funded by stakeholders from within each respective market. The Grand Rapids market assessment kicked off in Spring 2016. It is funded through public and private funders. All funders enter into the agreement knowing that any and all site locations are on the table until the completion of the study. TechShop chooses the most viable location based on the long-term sustainability of a store.


  • Grand Rapids SmartZone
  • Start Garden
  • Rockford Construction
  • CMS Energy
  • Grand Valley State University, School of Engineering


  1. Market Evaluation
  2. Identify Stakeholders
  3. Location Analysis
  4. Concept Plan
  5. Stakeholder Feedback
  6. Proposed Integrated Plan
  7. Financial & Operational Model

The market assessment is a four to six month process that involves approximately five visits from the TechShop assessment team. Each visit includes stakeholder meetings. Each subsequent visit includes more and more stakeholders.

The assessment process is crucial to the placement of a TechShop location because any location requires a vibrant community of creative makers and millions of dollars of equipment and facilities. Each location is a long-term piece of infrastructure to benefit the entire community.

Currently, TechShop is in the Stakeholder Feedback phase. No formal decision has been made and no formal statement can be given about a Grand Rapids location until the assessment is complete.

The first part of the process narrows potential locations to a few possible sites, then focuses on a frontrunner site. After some very initial concepts are sketched, broader feedback from stakeholders is sought. A plan is developed that is as realistic as possible based on thier findings. Finally, TechShop makes a decision as to if the market is a viable option for a new store. No formal commitment is made until that determination is made.

TechShop anticipates a completed market assessment in Q1 2017.

Regarding site selection, several sites have been considered immediately adjacent to downtown Grand Rapids in the near south, north and west sides. These sites have included both existing buildings and new construction sites. 

Currently, the westside neighborhood of Grand Rapids is a frontrunner. No final decision has been made about location. Concepts are being developed to generate feedback using the westside. This is due to availability of infrastructure requirements, walkability, diversity of neighborhoods, a mix of affordable and market rate housing, proximity to downtown, proximity to tech companies, access to public transit and the freeway. Critically important is proximity to potential partners, such as WMCAT, that have capacity to serve a broad base of aspiring makers of diverse ages, genders, socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.

A TechShop opening in Grand Rapids is positive affirmation and validation of a community’s startup and maker ecosystem. Their incredible community of members and staff provide inspiration and support for creating projects. With TechShop’s classes, workshops, instruction and training for people of all ages, the West Michigan community can continue to build upon the assets that have made us a destination for advanced manufacturing, building the skills for the next generation to build whatever they can dream.

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5x5 Night Hits the Road

Posted on by Paul Moore, filed under Announcements

Start Garden is getting out of the building and into the neighborhoods to find new entrepreneurs. 5x5 Night, Michigan’s most open pitch competition, hits the road for 2016!

The rules are simple: 5 presenters have 5 minutes and 5 slides to pitch in front of 5 judges for a $5,000 grant.

Each venue has its own host committee that selects the final five presenters and the judges. Visitors to may vote on ideas. Tallies are considered in the decision process but final selection is at the discretion of the host committee.

Submit your idea to today!

JUL 21 Holland at CityVu Events (Submissions open JUN 23)
AUG 24 Grand Rapids at LINC (Submissions open JUL 22)
SEP 27 Muskegon at Innovation Hub (Submissions open AUG 25)
OCT 25 Grand Rapids at GVSU (Submissions open SEP 28)
NOV 29  CINCO POR CINCO EN ESPAÑOL! (Presentations can be given in Spanish) Grand Rapids at Rockford Construction (Submissions open OCT 26)
JAN 24 Muskegon at Innovation Hub (Submissions open NOV 30)

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The New Start Garden

Posted on by Paul Moore, filed under Announcements

In 2012, Start Garden changed the landscape for entrepreneurship in West Michigan. In 2016, we do it again.

As a venture capital fund, Start Garden has always behaved very differently. Based on the belief that there’s no point investing into fast growth startups without a culture in which they could grow, we served as both fund and catalyst to stimulate a lot more risk taking from both entrepreneurs and investors.

In three years we funded
190  $5,000 “experiments”
68  $20,000-$50,000 potential startups
23 $50,000-$500,000 portfolio companies

Today, Start Garden separates into three different entities in order to build upon the work we previously did as one company. We join together with the Grand Rapids SmartZone and eMerge West Michigan to align the public and private sector around the needs of entrepreneurs.

A for-profit venture capital fund that continues to manage and invest into a portfolio of between 25-30 companies.

An “ecosystem” entity to bridge public and private efforts, for-profit and non-profit, to align the entire region around what’s best for those seeking an opportunity to get a start in West Michigan. Currently, it manages services for the Grand Rapids SmartZone and Seamless Accelerator.

A 501c3 not-for-profit (formerly known as eMerge West Michigan) to allow philanthropic dollars to converge with public dollars and private investment to most equitably serve all entrepreneurs looking to launch new businesses, from neighborhoods to the high tech sectors.

Start Garden has a long-term commitment to turn our region into one of the best places to start up a business. This long view is executed in a step-by-step approach to learn what is needed today in this particular context, then adapt to that context. To best serve our region and its present needs, Start Garden has adapted its structure to deepen its devotion of time and resources toward a true culture of entrepreneurship.

We'll be sharing a lot more about what this all means in the months to come, but for now check out the Rapid Growth article, Making It In Grand Rapids.

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Start Garden Restructures to Facilitate West Michigan Startup Activity

Posted on by TriciaJackson, filed under Press Releases


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., March 25, 2016 — The Grand Rapids SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA), today announced it approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Start Garden, an unconventional platform for startup acceleration, which will begin the transition to provide entrepreneurial services on behalf of the Grand Rapids SmartZone.

To facilitate the new public-private partnership, Start Garden will separate its for-profit venture capital fund from the ecosystem effort. The new entity will maintain the Start Garden name and original mandate to lower the barriers to entry for entrepreneurs of all stages and background. The public-private partnership will also include eMerge West Michigan, a 501c3 foundation, which will accept investment from private and foundational sources. eMerge will change its name to Start Garden Foundation.

The Grand Rapids SmartZone was established in 2002 to engage high technology, advanced manufacturing and life science startup enterprises and entrepreneurial incubation within a designated area of the city. The adoption of the MOU is the first step in a multi-step strategy that the Grand Rapids LDFA, Start Garden, Grand Valley State University and eMerge West Michigan have worked toward since November. 

“For several years, the activities of the Grand Rapids SmartZone and those of Start Garden have operated in parallel, often duplicating themselves. We are bringing these organizations together to build on our assets and concentrate on the needs of our region,” said Kara Wood, executive director of the LDFA. “Start Garden has proven itself to have the experience to support the strengthening of a strong startup ecosystem, and make it work for entrepreneurs. Together we will continue to make Grand Rapids a great place for startups to launch and grow.”

The goals set in place by the Grand Rapids LDFA include creating the best entrepreneur ecosystem for the region, incorporating accessibility and navigability of both public and private resources. The alignment with Start Garden is a distinctly new effort to bring together support services and education to best serve entrepreneurs of all backgrounds.

“Start Garden has taken risks on people who want to take risks, and our region has benefitted from it. As the needs and demands of entrepreneurs change, we are adapting the ecosystem’s traditional public and private structures,” said Mike Morin, CEO of the new Start Garden Ecosystem. “Talent gains experience through trial, error, pivots and failure, the growth of talent is how an ecosystem matures. Start Garden builds on the lessons we’ve learned since 2012 about lowering barriers to entry and supporting new businesses when they prove traction. Today, our focus expands to how we collectively support entrepreneurs across the region.”

Start Garden launched in 2012 to develop the financial, intellectual and social structures of West Michigan’s startup ecosystem. In fewer than three years, it produced more than 300 startup businesses, creating a critical mass of activity in the region and an atmosphere that has brought new investment into the region.

In 2014, the entrepreneur committee of Talent 2025, working with volunteer leaders from around the region, developed eMerge West Michigan, a first-of-its-kind privately funded entity that could further develop a regional, West Michigan entrepreneurship ecosystem.

“We created eMerge to be the non-profit, go-to resource for early-stage entrepreneurship support in West Michigan, and its programming has brought new visibility and awareness to the needs of entrepreneurs within the ecosystem,” said Mike Jandernoa, chair of eMerge West Michigan and member of Talent 2025’s CEO Leadership Council. “By combining our forces with Start Garden, we can further realize our efforts that will create a stronger talent system for West Michigan.”

The startup ecosystem has changed substantially since the original inception of the Grand Rapids SmartZone, as well as the creation of GR Current, eMerge and Start Garden. During the past six months, the broad-based coalition of stakeholders have assessed past activity to identify the current ecosystem’s assets and needs. The new structure is intended to be different and broader in scope and vision than what the organizations had been offering separately. 

“A city’s entrepreneurial sector is a key to economic growth and the creation of good jobs. More than half of all U.S. jobs are in small businesses and nearly 65 percent of all new good jobs are created by them,” said Kevin Stotts, president of Talent 2025. “It is up to us now to bring together the financial capital of the private sector to achieve our goals for the region.”

Details of the new Start Garden-SmartZone LDFA will continue to solidify during the next eight weeks. Additional information is available on the city of Grand Rapids’ SmartZone website:

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About Start Garden
Start Garden is the epicenter of West Michigan’s startup ecosystem, and administrator of the Grand Rapids SmartZone. The organization brings together financial, intellectual and social capital to entrepreneurs by connecting them to resources critical to their growth-stage. Start Garden advances the economy of Grand Rapids by establishing the area as a desired place for new businesses to begin. More at

Brian Burch
Start Garden

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Start Garden On The Road: A Week With Michigan House

Posted on by TriciaJackson,

As a sponsor, we are often asked to describe exactly what Michigan House is. You may have heard the 15-second elevator pitch: it’s a pop-up installation where Michigan’s most dynamic companies, organizations, artists and entrepreneurs share their stories under one roof, and a testament to a vibrant Michigan culture that isn’t just surviving - but thriving.

Great. So really, though. What is Michigan House?

Michigan House // Austin 2016

How did Michigan House end up in Texas? The SXSW installation of Michigan House might very well be the result of divine intervention. One, a cultural festival based on art (music and film), interactive media, and the super cool companies that commercialize these industries to all of us as consumers. The other, a roving pop-up illustrating just a few of the best things that make Michigan’s culture so dynamic - which also happen to be similarly highlighted as art (mainly music), interactive media, and super cool Michigan companies. The correlation is a clear connection that makes taking Michigan House to Austin during SXSW an obvious choice.

SXSW is spread vastly throughout the entirety of downtown Austin. But Michigan House? “Under one roof” means exactly that. The team spends countless hours transforming the space (any space, really) into what we later recognize as Michigan House. The venue gets filled with relevant products from local companies like Meijer, Founders Brewing, AMI Entertainment, Proper Soda, CAT Footwear, Shinola, Steelcase, Detroit Wallpaper, McClure’s Pickles, & Boxed Water (and many more). After all of the homegrown products are added, then we invite all of the Michiganders & expatriates in Austin. With the people come the creativity, conversations, music, stories, and culture.

The Michigan House team curates back-to-back experiences to encourage attendees to talk about our Great Lakes State. This year, ArtPrize set up a fully decked recording studio in the venue’s backyard guest house for five Michigan bands to record in daily. The headliners: ONEFREQ, The Accidentals, Heaters, Flint Eastwood & In Tall Buildings.

Conversations take place amongst people from the same state, even the same city, who come together with the initial intention to celebrate Michigan as a community. Michigan House allows for awareness of the opportunities within our state. Ultimately, the space is a place for us to break the rustbelt stereotype that the rest of the country has a hard time shaking. We get to tell the story of Michigan’s future in person, instead of Michigan’s history telling the story for us.

For more highlights from this year's Austin installation, visit

For more information about Michigan House, visit

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Connect The Dots: A Statewide Pitch Competition

Posted on by TriciaJackson, filed under Press Releases


DETROIT, December 8, 2015 — While the cities in Michigan may appear as dots on a map, they are much, much more. Michigan House, an effort spearheaded by Creative Many Michigan, the statewide organization for the arts, culture and creative and design industries, and 5X5 Night, the innovation pitch competition based in Grand Rapids, today announced Connect the Dots, a one-night, experimental grant program that will award $5,000 to anyone in Michigan with an idea that can bring the state’s network of cities and cultures together.

Connect the Dots will be held January 13, 2016, at Michigan House: Detroit, 601 W. Fort St., in downtown Detroit, during the North American International Auto Show. The pitch competition, hosted by Michigan House and 5x5 Night, will find new, creative ways to make real, intentional connections between the Michigan’s cities. Anyone can submit an idea for consideration to

Michigan House wants to hear ideas for:
- Hospitality programs that span cities
- Lowering barriers to hop around the state for a night on the town
- Soft-landings for businesses that want to make new connections in another city
- Statewide music, film or art festivals

“The dots on the map aren’t just cities, they’re pockets of people with identities and cultures that are individually distinct, but together they create Michigan, a vibrant and exciting place to live and work,” said Joe Voss, Creative Many's Director of Strategic Partnerships. “Michigan House shows off a landscape of creativity and interconnectedness in our state, and 5x5 Night has an impeccable record as an idea-generator. Together we can find and fund some creative ideas that fully embrace the way our state works and plays together.”

5X5 Night was created in 2011 to create a critical mass of new ideas in Grand Rapids, Mich. Among its most successful include the Grandwich competition and My Great Lake. The program will follow the successful format of 5x5 Night in Grand Rapids: up to five people, selected online by a popular vote, will serve as finalists in the one-night competition. Finalists will have up to five minutes to present a summary of their ideas with five slides. Five judges will then decide which idea (or ideas) win. Grants will be given from a total prize pot of $5,000.

“Michigan often struggles with thinking as a statewide unit. 5x5 Night is an event to stimulate idea sharing and connection building. Any type of idea can be submitted, from art projects to new businesses to events, the evening is designed to promote idea sharing from many disciplines,” said Paul Moore, communications director at Start Garden. “Michigan has shown immense power to create transformative products, services and events, and we are looking for that next idea, of any size, that will have big potential impact to bring our state together.”

Ideas will be judged by a panel of state and city officials who will award the $5,000 grant to the winner at the end of the night. Five ideas will be chosen to be present at Michigan House during the North American International Auto Show.

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About Creative Many Michigan
Creative Many Michigan, formerly ArtServe Michigan, is the statewide organization focused on the mission to develop creative people, creative places and the creative economy for a competitive Michigan through research, advocacy, professional practice, funding and communications..Creative Many’s offices are located at TechTown Detroit, The Runway in downtown Lansing and in downtown Grand Rapids. For more information, visit


Tricia Jackson
Start Garden

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Posted on by TriciaJackson, filed under Announcements


Start Garden Portfolio Member, OXX, demonstrates the durability of the world's toughest coffee maker, COFFEEBOXX, on the Science Channel's season premier of All American Makers. In case you missed it, here's a clip of OXX's featured episode.

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Start Garden Introduces: Seamless IoT Commercialization Program

Posted on by TriciaJackson, filed under Announcements, Press Releases


The Information Technology Industry in Michigan is inclining rapidly. Many sources celebrate Grand Rapids as one of the top four leading cities in the US for per capita job growth, naming technology innovation as the center of this development. At Start Garden, we once thought a startup ecosystem needed a strong research university to spin out new technologies. But today, as we’ve come to understand the manufacturing industry located in our own backyard, we see how complex and resource intensive it is to build a global enterprise that ships actual stuff. We’ve changed our mind.

It is inevitable that technologists must work with global enterprise companies when it comes to building and shipping physical products at scale. The infrastructure and domain expertise needed is too costly to duplicate.


Photo of Steelcase Wood Plant, located in Caledonia, Michigan. The first LEED certified manufacturing facility in the nation ships more than 22,000 units of furniture a month. Raw materials are delivered pre-sorted per order by suppliers, they’re fabricated into furniture and loaded onto trucks that depart for distributers all over North America. Raw materials are delivered and finished orders shipped every two hours.


Seamless isn’t really a startup accelerator as much as it is a commercialization program for technologies that must be integrated into the built environment. A Consortium of global enterprises actually run the program. Start Garden’s role is more of manager and investor. Amway (home goods), Faurecia (automotive interiors), Meijer Stores (retail environment), Priority Heath & Spectrum Health (a fully integrated insurer and healthcare provider with 22,500 staff & 1,500 physicians) and Steelcase (office environments) work alongside startups to provide unprecedented access into their innovation strategies and market channel.

We present to you, Seamless IoT Commercialization Program.

Get more updates from the 12-week IoT commercialization program by connecting with Seamless on social media: @SeamlessIoT on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Seamless Accelerator Announcement

Posted on by Paul Moore, filed under Press Releases


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., March 26, 2015 — Steelcase, Amway, Faurecia, Meijer, Spectrum Health and Priority Health have joined Start Garden, the unconventional, early-stage, venture capital fund, to announce the Seamless Coalition and Accelerator, a first-of-its kind collaboration which will bring the enterprises together with startups and entrepreneurs to create the next generation of connected devices.

Dubbed the “Internet of Things” (IoT), this next generation of connected objects and “things” is estimated to have a potential impact of $2-14 trillion on the global economy by 2020. A recent study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers found, one in every six businesses is planning to roll out an IoT-based product, and more than 75 percent of corporate enterprises are exploring how to use IoT to improve their operations.

The Seamless Accelerator program will provide enterprises with collaborative, light weight, low friction access to emerging technologies and businesses in a region that has quietly manufactured much of the physical spaces and objects encountered in today’s built environment. At the same time, it will provide startups with unprecedented access to intellectual and commercialization capital.

“As soon as a startup adds building physical things to building digital things, it takes a step into a very different world of facilities, global supply chains, and market channel relationships,” Jim Keane, CEO of Steelcase. “The Seamless Accelerator and Coalition merges the best from startup culture and enterprise experience in order to bring to market innovations for our physical environment.”

Startups often possess the right model and offerings to capitalize on emerging trends, but lack the access to scale them quickly and efficiently, especially with manufacturing physical objects. Conversely, enterprises have vast insight and quantification regarding the problems and the value of solving them. However, if the solution lies outside the company’s current core business model they struggle to launch sustainable solutions.

Start Garden will provide a neutral ground for financial, intellectual and social capital to converge from non-competing enterprises working with each other and startups, hosting activity within its new, 16,000 sq.ft. “neighborhood” for the regional startup community. Companies participating in the Seamless Coalition to create the IoT ecosystem include:

• Steelcase [NYSE: SCS], the world’s largest office interiors manufacturer
• Amway, the world’s leading direct selling business
• Meijer, the inventor of “one-stop shopping”
• Faurecia [EPA: EO], world’s largest automotive interiors suppliers
• Spectrum Health, a 1,200 provider health group
• Priority Health, a 626,000 member health insurance provider

“A successful ecosystem is not just made of entrepreneurs and investors, but made of people at established companies who want the creation of new value that startups do best. Grand Rapids is uniquely prepared for Seamless because of our deeply interconnected enterprises,” said Rick DeVos, CEO of Start Garden. “Knowing solutions starts with understanding a problem, and corporations opening their intelligence to startups with new ideas will inform all of us on the capabilities we need and the types of innovations to pursue.”

The Seamless Accelerator will consist of a three-month program, operating in semi-annual cycles, with ten startups working in each cycle. Participants will receive direct access to enterprise leaders working in their field of manufacturing and design, seed capital, as well as the resources of strategic vendor partners.

Seamless is currently seeking its first class of startups specializing in product, technology, data, materials and service companies from all over the world. The goal of the accelerator is to focus on solutions that improve how physical environment can better serve people. Seamless Accelerator is a member of TechStars Global Accelerator Network (GAN). Additional details on TechStars GAN, is available at

Applications for the Seamless Accelerator program will open on March 27, 2015. Members of the Seamless Coalition will be intimately involved in the selection process. Additional information is available at

About Start Garden
Start Garden is an unconventional venture capital fund, incubator and accelerator, which brings together financial, intellectual and social capital to entrepreneurs by connecting them to resources critical to their growth-stage. Start Garden is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it is founded by Rick DeVos who’s past projects included ArtPrize, 5x5 Night, Momentum and

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Brian Burch
Start Garden

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