New way new day greets would be entrepreneurs

May 6, 2012
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The Michigan Celebrates Small Business recognition events held last week offered evidence of the capacity of small businesses across Michigan as employers and contributors to the state economy. More than this, small businesses and the celebration of entrepreneurial skill offer examples and success for those yet to file DBAs — and a vast array of mentors.

While the state has many programs for would-be entrepreneurs, as well as various private and university programs, the time-honored method of operation is given a hard jolt by the example(s) set by Rick DeVos.

Every state and even the federal government are issuing calls and programs for entrepreneurs, and the competition for them is no less vehement than the competition for world-class industries. Serial entrepreneur DeVos, creator of Pomegranate Studios, ArtPrize and 5x5 Nights, stepped out again as the second quarter of 2012 began, announcing yet another endeavor to quick start those entrepreneurial concepts with a no fear factor: funding.

That call went out around the world, taking a page from ArtPrize. The incentive for startups is unmatched, and while there may be some comparisons to a TedX event, Start Garden puts money to the ideas, as well as visibility.

Each week DeVos’ Start Garden invests $5,000 in two ideas, one selected by Start Garden, the other selected by the general public. DeVos explained that each $5,000 winner has two months to prepare an update, presented during a public event (not a meeting with “suits”), with emphasis on moving to the next step and a $20,000 award. The Start Garden team determines whether to extend the investment and requires the would-be recipient to be in Grand Rapids “to take advantage of the city’s resources” and advice from the team.

At the $5,000 level, the recipient will be assisted in setting up a Michigan LLC. The team explains on its website: “Start Garden does not take ownership in intellectual property of your idea at the $5,000 level. It contains options so we remain investors if your idea becomes a successful business. At the very least, the $5,000 — as extremely early and high risk money — converts to 3 percent equity if you issue securities in the future. We hope it makes sense for us to continue to invest at the $20,000 level, $50,000 level, and so on.”

The Start Garden seed fund began with $15 million. The concept not only captures a limited liability corporation for Michigan, but requires the idea owner will come to Grand Rapids.

In the week the state government and state and federal agencies celebrated small business, Smart Garden announced its first three (not two) winners, citing an unanticipated number of proposals. In its first week, Start Garden reviewed 250 ideas, 20,000 visitors, 136,000 page views and more than 1,800 endorsements. DeVos noted in his press release: “We were not anticipating that many ideas, so the Start Garden team decided to pick two, in addition to the one selected by the public.” Those ideas are indicated at

DeVos is once again setting the world on its ear; this time it is the world of small business start-ups so desired in every state. And once again, DeVos is showing the world how it’s done in the new millennium for a creative class.

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