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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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