Banking & Finance and Small Business & Startups

Start Garden grows 'startup ecosystem'

June 4, 2014
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DeVos views failure as part of 'good' business explorer's journey
Rick DeVos speaks to the crowd at a Start Garden Update Night. Photo via fb.com

Start Garden is two years old — and “still in the first chapters of a long book.”

Start Garden, the $15-million seed fund in Grand Rapids, has invested in entrepreneurial ideas, services and products every week for two years, as part of its vision to foster a regional startup ecosystem.

Rick DeVos, founder and chief executive officer at Start Garden, said the fund is in the beginning steps of a really long process.

“Where we have been pretty excited and happy with impact especially, is in just being that catalytic capital,” DeVos said. “In terms to activate a broader investment community and create a higher flow of deals and higher visibility of startup companies, it has been really great and is really a predecessor, a necessary predecessor, of that robust venture in a startup ecosystem.”

During its latest Update Night last month, DeVos presented the State of Start Garden address and summarized how the fund has been connecting startups to resources in the region.

Experiments

In two years, Start Garden has received 1,956 submissions through its website for financial support. Of the possible ideas, the fund has invested $5,000 in 146 startups — to conduct an experiment to validate each startup's desirability, feasibility or viability.

Additional funding

DeVos said companies that have received $5,000 investments roughly a year ago have matured considerably and some have gone on to participate in angel rounds.

“It is cool to see that maturation process starting to happen in the portfolio, and we are getting to a place where we have a few companies that are probably pretty close to being able to raise an early stage round or a series A round,” DeVos said. 

Out of the startups selected to conduct a $5,000 experiment, 41 business ideas have continued on to receive between $20,000 and $50,000 in additional funding, while 43 startups have received between $50,000 and $500,000 from Start Garden.

Allocating "resources more efficiently"

In terms of the future, DeVos said Start Garden is always looking at how to improve and change practices and referenced the fund's initial decision to make two $5,000 investments each week in order to fill the pipeline early on.

“We were pretty happy with how that worked, but as things have started to mature, we have throttled that back to one $5,000 investment a week,” DeVos said. “We are always looking at the process and how we can allocate our resources more efficiently, not just financially, but also the Start Garden team and how we can get the most leverage out of what we do have.”

Portfolio

Start Garden’s portfolio of startups is diverse: Eidex Education Analytics, software used to analyze and evaluate school district academic and financial performance; Benefit, a mobile application allowing users to donate to a school or charity of their choice while shopping; Exo, a protein bar using cricket flour; Silikids, a silicone product used to make glass indestructible by children; Varsity News Network, an online platform for high school athletic departments; and many more.

“We continue to be really excited about the potential in the Midwest, in Michigan, in West Michigan and in Grand Rapids,” DeVos said. “I think that we are still in the first chapters of a long book, but pretty exciting stuff so far.”

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