Behind the scenes at Start Garden.
A Grand Rapids native holding a degree in Public Administration and minors in both Business and Sociology from GVSU, Jorge joins the Start Garden team in 2017 from his time as Executive Director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Prior to that, he was at LINC UP as the Director of Economic Development for four years and has 15 years of experience in the banking industry. His last banking position was as VP of Community Development from 2005 to 2010. In his spare time he enjoys running, occasional golf, spending time with friends and family.
Paul loves stories. Every business tells one and some are great. His twenties started in art, then went to filmmaking and wound up in marketing, where he realized all along he was prototyping things he found socially interesting. He’s worked with Rick DeVos since 2005 when they started Spout.com, then ArtPrize, 5×5 Night, and Start Garden. As Marketing Director on the original ArtPrize team, he helped launch an event that both enamored and appalled the art world. He has a Masters of Design Methods from the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. You can find Paul in Eastown with his wife, Kristen, and their three kids.
A native New Yorker who also spent time as a lobbyist in Washington D.C., Laurie eventually landed in the Midwest running a fly fishing business on the Muskegon River with her husband. They have just recently launched a new digital fly fishing magazine. Through her experience with the Newaygo County Economic Development Office, Laurie found her passion connecting entrepreneurs to the resources in West Michigan, leading to her previous role at Emerge WM. Now as a Director at Start Garden, her ability to connect people to the vast resources available within the community has proven to be her calling. In her spare time (when not busy doing layout and design for the magazine – LOL) you can find Laurie traveling to the East Coast to spend time visiting family and friends.
Darel Ross II
Indicative of the rooted connection to the neighborhood where he was raised, Darel first began his entrepreneurial career opening an insurance agency in Southeast Grand Rapids. For more than nine years Darel served LINC’s Board of Directors as Treasurer, and most recently as the organization’s Co-Executive Director, serving a critical role that brings together housing, economic development, essential needs services, business incubation and real estate development serving Kent County. Through his leadership, Ross has helped secure over $67 million in funding for community improvement efforts resulting in over 300 families increasing their assets, training over 600 residents, improving over 750 homes and creating over 120 full-time jobs.
Belen (sounds like Helen, but with a B), originally from Mexico and eventually made Grand Rapids her home. Belen loves community work and advocacy. Most recently, she served as the Administrative Assistant at the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Prior to that she worked at Linc Up as a Community Liaison, and that is where she found her passion, which is helping the community and hispanic businesses. Belen loves to try new foods and one of her favorites is Ethiopian food. If there is music you can find Belen dancing her day away.
Marketing & Events Manager
Derek moved to Grand Rapids from Los Angeles in 2014 to work for ArtPrize where he worked for 8 years. Derek continues to be in awe with the growth and community involvement of GR since he moved here. He serves on the Board of Directors as Past President for Circle Theatre and is involved in the performing arts community locally. Derek is an Eagle Scout who grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where he learned to ski and developed an appreciation for the outdoors and outdoor activities. He loves working on events and loves how events bring people together in a variety of ways. He joined the Start Garden team in July of 2022 and is inspired by the work and mission of the organization and all they do for Entrepreneurs. He is thrilled to be working alongside an amazing team from which he learns from daily.
Adrian (AB) Butler
Brand & Social Media Ambassador
Adrian “AB” Butler has become an ambassador for the city of Grand Rapids and its unique breed of entrepreneurial creatives. As the frontman and founder of AB and Coconut Brown! (2007), the emcee helped craft a sound that delighted hip-hop heads and party people alike, earning the band numerous accolades including Grand Rapid’s Best Band (GR Magazine 2011). Ten years later in 2021, AB received GR Magazine’s Best DJ Award. His DJ sets are a cool mix of timeless classics, underground bangers, and everyone’s favorite songs. He seamlessly blends the new and the old, criss-crossing genres and tapping into a deep understanding of what gets people up out of their seats and onto the dance floor.
As the Grant Manager, Erica manages and coordinates overall review of contracts and grant agreements. Erica brings a passion for engaging in efforts towards the renewal of human societies, participating in initiatives ranging from grassroots community nonprofit to organizing around human rights issues. She has worked over a decade in the nonprofit settings in various administrative roles. Erica enjoys connecting vision to results through a system of collaborative approaches, generating effective strategies. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, watching DIY shows and visiting different zoos.
Entrepreneur in Residence
Darren is the Co-founder and CEO of JustAir and aims to bring more transparency to air quality health impacts at a neighborhood level. Before JustAir, Darren was a portfolio manager at Endeavor, working with a global portfolio of high-growth companies and supporting them through various scaling challenges. He is also a Co-founder of Commune Angels, an angel group united by their shared interest in high-growth ventures and strengthened by their diverse experiences. Overall, Darren is keen on leveraging emerging technologies to bring about visibility and solutions to the issues that impact overlooked communities. Darren holds a B.S. in Computer Information Systems from Carnegie Mellon University.
Bill Lawrence, 42 North Partners
Mary O’Neil, Atomic Object
Luciano Hernandez, Tiger Studio Design
Hannah Naltner, Steelcase
Joe Lampen, Wakestream Ventures
Become a part of the Ecosystem
Get familiar with the resources in West Michigan by joining the Start Garden hub on the Startup Space App