Economic Development, Small Business & Startups, and Technology

Grand Rapids SmartZone awards $1.6M in grants

December 19, 2017
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Furniture dealer outfits Start Garden
Start Garden is a nonprofit based in downtown Grand Rapids that works to create an "entrepreneurial ecosystem." Courtesy Custer

The Grand Rapids SmartZone has approved six grants totaling $1.6 million to local entities supporting technology businesses and entrepreneurs.

The local SmartZone board announced the grants yesterday: applied Medical Device Institute, or aMDI, at Grand Valley State University; The Keller Family Businesses; Spectrum Health, in collaboration with GVSU and Kendall College of Art and Design; Start Garden; and Creative Many Michigan.

Projects approved range from support for high-tech and life-sciences business incubators to smart city infrastructure and additional marketing for the Grand Rapids SmartZone.

The grant funds will leverage an additional $2.6 million of private funds and should serve more than 35 high-tech startups, with the potential to indirectly serve "many more."

The Grand Rapids SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority, or LDFA, also agreed to reserve $500,000 for a joint talent proposal to be submitted by Grand Rapids Public Schools, the West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology and Grand Circus for new high-tech training facilities and programs. 

“Expanding our investments to include these additional activities will allow the Grand Rapids SmartZone LDFA to better respond to the needs of the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Jerry Kooiman, chair of the Grand Rapids SmartZone LDFA and assistant dean of external relations at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. 

In September, the Grand Rapids SmartZone LDFA issued a request for proposal to identify investment opportunities that would further its strategic priorities, with up to $2.5 million available for recipients.

Thirty-two proposals were received requesting a total of more than $16.5 million. 

“The volume of responses received was very encouraging and resulted in the board being able to fund initiatives in each of their strategic priorities,” said Kara Wood, executive director, Grand Rapids SmartZone LDFA. “It is exciting to be able to invest in existing activities delivering tangible outcomes taking place in the city and supporting exciting new endeavors to complement the existing ecosystem.” 


Enabled by state legislation, SmartZones are distinct geographical locations in Michigan where technology-based firms, entrepreneurs and researchers locate in close proximity to assets, creating a cluster of community institutions. 

SmartZones are an economic development tool that allows the capture of increased property tax dollars for investment within the SmartZone to foster the development and attraction of technology-based businesses and jobs. 

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