START GARDEN INTRODUCES NEW LEADERSHIP STRUCTURE; HIRES DAREL ROSS, JORGE GONZALEZ AS EXECUTIVES
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 www.startgarden.com.
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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 www.startgarden.com.