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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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Why Start Garden is interested in air quality monitoring

Posted on by Paul Moore, filed under Announcements, Community

Today, M Live Media Group published a story titled, Grand Rapids to invest in air quality monitoring led by biz accelerators that mentions Start Garden and several of our partners.

This pilot program to expand air quality monitoring is part of a broader strategy for tech infrastructure that delivers new value for city government, private enterprise  and community residents, frequently dubbed as just "Smart City."

For city government, the value is the ability to have much more accurate and current data of the air quality in different neighborhoods and how it can respond quickly to problem areas.

For private enterprise, the value is the ability to incubate on top of the city's technology infrastructure. In this case, for a home goods and automotive company to audition products that can make their consumers aware of the quality of air they're breathing and do something about it.

For community residents, they have information needed to become active participants in creating a healthy neighborhood.

This win-win-win strategy is how Start Garden approaches projects that fall under the label Smart Cities or Internet of Things, which is shorthand for when the spaces where we live, work and play are powered by intelligence as much as they are by electricity.

This pilot actually has 10 different parties currently collaborating and contributing in some way to the project, including Start Garden, OST, iServ, Steelcase, Faurecia, Amway, Seamless IoT, University of Michigan, Mobile GR and Environmental Services for the City of Grand Rapids.

Cities that will lead as Smart Cities require fluid working relationships between government, private enterprise and community residents. We hope this effort is one of many where Start Garden can bring together parties from across public and private sectors to deliver new value for everyone involved.

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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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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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