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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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 www.startgarden.com.

# # #

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.

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.

# # #
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 www.grabblocal.com.

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.

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 5x5night.com 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 5x5night.com 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: http://grcity.us/city-clerk/Pages/Smartzone-Local-Development-Authority-Board.aspx

# # #

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.

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 www.CreativeMany.org.

For more information about Michigan House, visit www.MichiganHouse.org.

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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 www.5x5night.com.

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.

# # #

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 creativemany.org.


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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