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:

# # #

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

There have been 0 Replies

Start Garden On The Road: A Week With Michigan House

Posted on by TriciaJackson,

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

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

Michigan House // Austin 2016

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about Michigan House, visit

There have been 0 Replies

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.

# # #

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

There have been 0 Replies


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.

There have been 0 Replies

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.

There have been 0 Replies

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

# # #

Brian Burch
Start Garden

There have been 0 Replies

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

There have been 0 Replies


Posted on by Start Garden Intern, filed under Announcements

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. June 30, 2014 – Fifty Louis Street, Start Garden’s downtown hub for entrepreneurs, will be closed from July 2 at noon through July 4th in observance of the Independence Day holiday.

The holiday break kicks off a four-week hiatus from its weekly investment decisions, monthly updates and education classes. Submissions will remain open, but a $5K decision will not be made until July 31st at noon. The 50 Louis space will be open normal business hours in July, and Advisor Hours will continue on Tuesday afternoons.

Its full schedule will return on Wednesday, August 6. In the meantime, they are devoting attention to the growth of their portfolio companies—those investments of $20,000 or greater.

Additional detail about Start Garden and its upcoming programming can be found at

There have been 0 Replies

February Update Night

Posted on by Start Garden Intern, filed under Press Releases



GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., February 27, 2013 -- Start Garden, the $15,000,000 seed fund that selects individual ideas each week for investments, and opportunities for further investment, tonight held their monthly Update Night at 50 Louis St. Among the four companies vying for the next level of investment, the Start Garden team chose A2B Bikeshare, a company providing communities with hardware and software for automated bike rentals or bikeshares, to recieve $20,000 in additional funding. 

A2B Bikeshare, created by Ansgar Strother, is a "Smart Bike - Dumb Rack" solution. Since all the technology is on the bike, it doesn't have to be locked up at a central kiosk for rental. Users can pay using technology on the bike, which can in turn be locked anywhere. The hardware and software combination includes a touch screen secured between the bike's handlebars, giving users access to an easy rental process, and features like navigational maps, guided tours, and points of interests during their ride. GPS on the bikes tracks location and system status at all times. 

"Bike sharing programs are rapidly growing throughout the U.S. which is a good thing, but it means A2B Bikeshare has their work cut out for them because their competitors have a head start," said Joe Lampen, controller at Start Garden. "We think their solution to reduce obstacles to market entry is a strong competitive advantage. So yes, we're pleased to provide additional funding for their next round." 

In addition to its $5,000 investments, Start Garden invited two entrepreneurs funded at $20,000 or greater to present on the status of their projects before a live audience. These include:

Organicycle: a curbside composting service for food, paper, yard & pet waste

Benefit: a mobile commerce app combining everyday shopping and charitable giving

Social accountability is essential to the Start Garden program. Entrepreneurs are required by Start Garden to present their experiment during a monthly Update Night. Teams that recieved a $5,000 discuss their key learnings and prove whether it was viable, desirable and feasible. Teams that received $20,000 explain where they are after nearly a year in the Start Garden ecosystem.

During Update Night, teams have three minutes to present before a live audience and explain how the money was used to complete an experiment that proved their idea is desirable, feasible or viable. Following the presentations, a panel of advisors discusses each project and announces which projects Start Garden will continue to invest in.

Three additional entrepreneurs presented during Start Garden's February Update Night, but did not proceed to the next level of investment. These include:

Guest Edge: a membership site filling seats for shows, concerts, and events

OneBowl: a microwave-safe single serving bowl with a built-in strainer

Rani's Yummy Granola: 100% natural granola in an on-the-go snack pack

The Start Garden management team accepts ideas with potential to become businesses through Each week the Start Garden team selects one idea to recieve $5,000, with the broader community endorsing ideas they feel should recieve the investment. 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, March 27. 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. 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 who's past projects included ArtPrize, 5X5 Night, Momentum and 



Brian Burch

Start Garden


There have been 0 Replies

Start Garden Seeking Video Production Intern

Posted on by Start Garden Intern, filed under Announcements

Are you a tech - saavy individual with a felxible schedule looking for an internship? Start Garden is searching for a person with experience producing live stream content of our workshops and events.

If you're interested, read on to find out how to apply.

Video Production Intern

Start Garden is an unconventional venture capital fund that invests in over a hundred ideas a year in small increments. 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 include ArtPrize, 5x5 Night, Momentum and

The Start Garden Video Production Internship opportunity offers a multi-faceted, hands-on experience with a unique organization and team. The role of Intern includes but is not limited to producing video, podcasts, and live stream content of Start Garden workshops & events.  Monitoring social media during live streamed workshops and moderate questions between online participants and guest speakers.  Editing and uploading content to the Start Garden YouTube and UStream channels.  Troubleshooting technology issues.

A self-directed individual studying film/video who is proficient at video production, web broadcasting, editing, and operating audio/video.

Start Garden classes usually take place 1 to 3 evenings per week (5:00 to 8:00) and 2 afternoons per month.  Additional classes could be added.  Editing/Content Management can take place off site if necessary.  Flexibility of schedule is needed.

Part-time (10 to 15 hours per week). Hourly rate: $9.00, not to exceed stipend of $720.00 a month.

Interested applicants should send a resume, and any other materials you feel would help us get to know you better to by January 27, 2014.  Interviews will begin the week of February 2nd.  Start date will be mid to late February.

There have been 0 Replies

Page 2 of 11