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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.

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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

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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


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Raul Alvarez
GTSD Group

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Organization Leadership Structure Evolves to Focus on Inclusion of All West Michigan Entrepreneurs

Posted on by TriciaJackson, filed under Press Releases


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., January 26, 2017 - Start Garden, West Michigan's regional startup ecosystem, today announced the capstone to its year-long restructuring with the addition of Darel Ross II and Jorge Gonzalez, two seasoned economic development leaders, to its leadership team. Simultaneously, Start Garden will adopt a revised organizational structure, with a shared leadership model led by Ross, Gonzalez, Paul Moore and Mike Morin.

Start Garden launched in 2012 as a non-traditional venture capital fund, investing weekly into $5,000 early stage ideas and “experiments,” with a goal of guiding and growing them into regional high-growth companies. In 2016 the organization took on leadership of the Grand Rapids SmartZone, with the expanded goal of offering entrepreneurship development across sectors it previously was unable to influence.

For more than nine years, Darel Ross has served as co-executive director of LINC, serving a critical role that brings together housing, economic development, essential needs services, business incubation and real estate development serving Kent County. Jorge Gonzalez has been executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce since March 2015. Under Gonzalez's leadership, the chamber has become the central connecting point for Hispanic entrepreneurs in West Michigan.

“Start Garden’s mission has always been to establish Grand Rapids as the best place to start a business, so we constructed an organization that could exist beyond a traditional venture capital fund, and become a collaborative growth environment,” said Mike Morin, director of Start Garden. “The vitality and future of our entrepreneurial ecosystem, however, requires local leaders in economic development with deep knowledge of the disparities and challenges faced in diverse entrepreneur communities. This helps ensure that the economic benefits of entrepreneurship can be realized by people of all backgrounds and experience.”

As a function of its restructuring, Start Garden’s will seek  “to create and connect the infrastructure for entrepreneurship to support aspiring business owners throughout the region.”  Recent data shows that while the Hispanic community in Grand Rapids has increased by more than 10% from 2009 to 2014 (US. Census), there has also been an increase in poverty, low income and high unemployment. The causes are generally rooted in the structural conditions of labor markets, particularly the restructuring of the economy.

“In the work Darel and I have done to advance economic development, it is clear to us that a systems level approach is necessary to remove barriers to entrepreneurship in each community,” says Gonzalez. “This kind of approach is what the new Start Garden structure will allow us to do today.”

Furthermore, when it comes to entrepreneurship, African-American entrepreneurship is more underrepresented in Grand Rapids than similar cities. Forbes magazine has ranked Grand Rapids last out of 52 cities for the African-American community's wealth creation measured against entrepreneurship, home ownership and average median income.

“My transition is as much about expanding the kind of work LINC has been able to do in economic development as it is about adding capacity to Start Garden.” says Ross. ‘To achieve the universal goal of equitable opportunities for all entrepreneurs across all neighborhoods, it takes a targeted approach and intentionality - this new model is designed with that goal in mind."

The addition of Ross and Gonzalez will allow Start Garden to play a key role in future decisions that will form the physical, financial, social and intellectual infrastructures to serve entrepreneurship for a generation.

Details on the new Start Garden structure are available at

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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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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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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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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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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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Roomations Receives $20,000 Investment from Start Garden

Posted on by Start Garden Intern, filed under Press Releases


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., August 28, 2014 – Roomations, an online platform that crowdsources interior designers to make custom room design easy and accessible to everyone, today received an additional $20,000 investment from Start Garden, the $15,000,000 seed fund based in Grand Rapids, Mich. The announcement was made during the fund’s monthly Update Night.

Roomations, which received a $5,000 initial investment from Start Garden on May 29, brings together homeowners with expert interior designers through an entirely online process. Homeowners complete a simple quiz, answering questions about personal style and total project budget. After that initial step, several designers put together a styleboard that represents the individual tastes of the homeowner and the recommended products for the room. After a user selects a design, the designer provides a custom 3D room design and a shopping list.

“Roomations is hassle-free management of interior design, without time-wasting home visits or appointments,” said Katie Miller, founder of Roomations. “Homeowners can redesign entire rooms in fewer than ten days.”

Miller used the initial $5,000 investment to prove that her Roomations idea was desirable, feasible and viable during a 90-day experiment. Her tests included two promotional tactics, including a referral campaign and a sponsored blog/influencer campaign.

“We were impressed at your disciplined approach to run tests in the market, find out what was or wasn’t working and then iterate from there” said Kim Pasquino, portfolio manager at Start Garden. “We think this idea has a ton of potential, differing ways to monetize it, and we are excited to proceed with a $20,000 investment. We have confidence that if it can be figured out, this team will do it.”

Update Night provides social accountability to the Start Garden ecosystem. Entrepreneurs are required to present their experiment in three minutes before a live audience, and receive feedback from members of the Start Garden team. Teams that received $5,000 discuss their key learnings to prove whether it was viable, desirable and feasible. Portfolio companies updating on their $20,000 or greater investments explain where they are after nearly a year in the Start Garden ecosystem.

Start Garden heard from five additional companies, all $5,000 experiments that did not proceed to the next level of investment, during the August Update Night. These include:

  • Folyo - E-commerce platform connecting art students with the art world
  • Networkingout - LinkedIn for health/wellness with a collaborative user experience
  • Storyverse - A mobile app that is a fusion of games and storybooks 
  • This Day in Art – Online Battle of the Bands for artists
  • Caredisplays - Software that allows caregivers to accurately update communication

The Start Garden management team accepts ideas with potential to become businesses through Each week the Start Garden team selects an idea and the broader community on the website endorses another idea to receive $5,000. Start Garden can continue to invest up to $500,000 in a single idea. Learn more about submission criteria at

The next Start Garden Update Night will take place Thursday, September 25. Learn more about Start Garden events at

About Start Garden
Start Garden is an unconventional venture capital fund that invests in more than a hundred ideas a year in small increments. To date, it has invested more than $6 million into startup companies. The program brings financial, intellectual and social capital to ideas at the earliest stage by connecting them to the resources of an entire region. Located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it is founded by Rick DeVos whose past projects included ArtPrize, 5x5 Night, Momentum and

Brian Burch
Start Garden

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