Banking & Finance, Human Resources, and Small Business & Startups

Business Journal's Impact Award winner is off to a good start

December 23, 2013
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Start Garden invests $2.3M in 106 ideas in year one
Rick DeVos, Start Garden’s founder, delivers the State of Start Garden Address at the $15-million seed fund’s headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids. Photo by Mike Nichols

Look into the future and what do you see?

“I’m not big into predicting things. There are a million different scenarios that could play out over the next 30 years. The only thing you can predict is that things are unpredictable,” said Rick DeVos, creator of Start Garden and ArtPrize, in an interview for the Business Journal’s 30th anniversary edition.

“It’s interesting to look at it, but to lock ourselves into a specific vision of a scenario that’s going to play out — like the sort of binary thinking of, 'Oh, everything is going to happen in China, be made in China' — I think is silly. There are no absolutes in anything in the future.”

While there are no absolutes for the future, there’s at least one pretty good bet: DeVos will continue to use his resources to make sure “things” are still being made in West Michigan well into the next several decades.

For that reason — and about 15 million more — DeVos and his entrepreneurial brainchild, Start Garden, are the winners of the Business Journal’s Impact Award.

The award is given to a person, business or project that has the most significant long-term economic impact for West Michigan. Start Garden certainly fits the bill, especially if considered with DeVos’ creation of ArtPrize, now entering year 6.

Start Garden is a $15-million investment fund created by DeVos to encourage entrepreneurialism and that encouragement initially is doled out in $5,000 chunks. The Start Garden team reviews submitted ideas and selects at least one each week for an initial stage of investment.

Creators are asked to return at a later date and report their progress to the Start Garden team, with some eventually earning more funding.

Each investment Start Garden makes includes not only financial capital, but intellectual and social capital, as well.

The idea is to provide just-in-time investment for the next step of a startup. Likewise, the organization’s facility at 50 Louis NW is for just-in-time learning and just-in-time connections, according to its website. This includes mentor meetings, various classes and even social events designed to make business connections and further business activity.

Not every Start Garden entrepreneur is from West Michigan, but many call the region home and all are contributing to an up-swell of business startups and economic activity that are sure to have an impact long into the future.

The well-rounded approach to breeding success already has spurred several entrepreneurial ventures, ranging from the physical, like Adaptive Mobility Products and nuDAWN Heat, to the technological, including GAPro System and Seat Side Service.

DeVos will be recognized with the Impact Award during the Business Journal’s Newsmaker of the Year breakfast Jan. 29 at Frederik Meijer Gardens. The breakfast meeting also will recognize the winners of 10 Newsmaker of the Year honors in 10 categories, as well as the overall Newsmaker of the Year Award. To see a list of this year’s 30 nominees, click here.

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