Building big 'Mo' on the Web

February 1, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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HOLLAND — Would-be entrepreneurs who have a good idea for a Web-based venture but are short on capital and know-how could be getting some valuable help this summer from Momentum, a new partnership of Lakeshore Advantage in Zeeland and West Michigan investors including Windquest Group.

But first they have to apply for the help before March 1.

Momentum is a seed-stage funding and incubation program launched last week that will provide initial investments and business launch assistance to "young entrepreneurs who have exceptional technology and Web application ideas," according to an announcement from Lakeshore Advantage.

"Momentum is geared toward college students, but anyone can apply as long as they can commit to the program and the launch of their business," said Amanda Chocko, director of entrepreneurial development at Lakeshore Advantage, an economic development organization.

According to the new organization's Web site (www.momentum-mi.com), Momentum will accept applications until March 1 from individuals who have a well-developed idea and are serious about turning it into a business.

Momentum plans to help launch up to five new ventures this summer. Each proposed venture must have two or three founders who are willing to move to the Holland area for about three months, beginning in early May. There they will be set up in "affordable housing and office space," and Momentum will help get the businesses incorporated and also bring in experts who will try to help the would-be entrepreneurs succeed as they begin planning and implementing their business venture.

By late July, the entrepreneurs will be expected to pitch their business proposals "to people who will help take you to the next level," according to the Momentum Web site.

While this may sound like a new television reality show, Momentum is serious. Momentum's financial backers will make an investment of "seed money" in each venture, from $10,000 to $20,000, in return for an ownership stake of 2 to 10 percent. The investors include The Windquest Group in Grand Rapids, which is headed by Dick DeVos.

Rick DeVos, who is Dick’s son, will be among those evaluating each application and investment opportunity.

“I’m excited about not only showcasing this talent, but also working with the investment community to help them understand the potential of supporting the kind of highly focused, service-driven sites today’s Web technologies are enabling,” Rick DeVos said.

Bill Holsinger-Robinson, COO of Spout, is helping to develop and launch Momentum and will be acting as a mentor to the participants. Spout.com, a commercial Web site for North American movie fans based in the same downtown Grand Rapids building with Windquest, was started by a small group including Rick DeVos.

“There is so much untapped intellectual capital in West Michigan — so much talent and passion,” said Holsinger-Robinson. “In a sense, Momentum will serve as a showcase of what’s possible in the area, while helping these entrepreneurs bring their visions to market."

The ideas that might be ripe for a business venture could include new high-tech Web applications, or a new Web-based consumer service, according to the Momentum Web site.

Chocko met last week with the GVSU Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization to make the group aware of Momentum. The organization was started a few years ago by GVSU students interested in entrepreneurship. The organization now has links to students in other West Michigan colleges.

Brandon Reame, who was the president of the GVSU Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization for a couple of years before he graduated, is now employed in marketing at izzydesign in Spring Lake but still serves as an adviser to the group.

Reame was at the meeting with Chocko and said the concept of Momentum is great, for a couple of reasons.

"It absolutely provides some of the best support I can think of for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially today — it's harder and harder to borrow money from a bank to start a business."

Momentum is "a great opportunity for people who have business ideas, to launch them," he added.

Reame also noted that it could be a good thing for Holland, where the first few entrepreneurial teams will be living for three months this summer — and perhaps launching new businesses there.

"That's just great for the city," he said.

Applications for participating in the Momentum program are available on the Momentum Web site. Entrepreneurial teams whose proposals are of interest to the Momentum committee will have to come to West Michigan for interviews in late March.

Teams that are ultimately selected for Momentum must spend May through early August in Holland and will be offered housing assistance and office space.

For more information, call Amanda Chocko at (616) 212-7703.

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