Economic Development, Nonprofits, and Small Business & Startups

GR well on its way to becoming an entrepreneurial hotspot

Start Garden among many organizations helping entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life.

June 15, 2018
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Start Garden has invested $7 million this year into startup technologies to further innovations. Courtesy Start Garden

Grand Rapids is making a name for itself in the entrepreneurial space.

Wallethub recently ranked Grand Rapids 13th, among 182 cities in the United States, as one of the best places to start a business.

One of the entrepreneurial ecosystems that has become a staple in the region is Start Garden.

Since the nonprofit organization officially remodeled itself in 2016, it has created different initiatives to help aspiring entrepreneurs jump-start their dreams.

One of the most recent and ongoing projects Start Garden rolled out is its 100 Ideas competition, where 621 entrepreneurial ideas were submitted and 100 of them were selected in April. Each of the 100 entrants received $1,000 in seed funding. The top 10 will be selected in July, and those 10 each will win $20,000 to invest in their potential business.

There is a range of industries featured in the competition.

According to Start Garden, 28 percent of the competitors aim to launch their businesses in the tech industry, 27 percent hope to create physical products, 18 percent would like to have startup service providers, 15 percent are interested in the food industry, 7 percent want to invest in social impact businesses and 5 percent are interested in retail.

Aside from the 100 Ideas, Start Garden also organizes the 5x5 Night pitch competition. The organization already has invested $7 million this year into startup technologies to further innovations.

Alongside the competitions, Director Paul Moore said Start Garden provides an incubator space at 40 Pearl St. NW for startup businesses it has helped launch.

“There is definitely a need for a space where the startup community can gather and do work and events,” Moore said. “So, that is why we opened the 40 Pearl space.”

For the first five months of 2018, 270 members (tenants) or 83 companies currently are conducting daily business in the incubator space, $18,050 in in-kind donations have been given toward events hosted by members and third parties, $41,450 in subsidized annual fees have been given to support minority-owned businesses and entrepreneur service organizations targeting minority communities and so far, two startups have raised $3 million.

Last year, $80,000 in grants were given to 16 aspiring entrepreneurs at 5x5 Night competitions, and Start Garden gained 26 outside venture capital funds, according to the 2017 Start Garden Report.

Start Garden received $2,262,032 in funding in 2017. The report said the nonprofit organization received $699,000 in philanthropic donations, $725,000 from the state government and $838,032 were given by corporations, such as sponsors and tenants in their incubator space.

Start Garden also provides social and intellectual resources.

“Financial capital is 5x5 Nights, 100 ideas and steering people to any kind of pitch competition or entrepreneurial competitions … anywhere that is giving away cash, essentially,” Moore said. “On the intellectual side, it is about pointing someone to something they need, like an intellectual property lawyer or an accountant. On the social capital side of things, we do about 50 networking events per year where people can get to know each other.”

The 2017 West Michigan Entrepreneurial Study, commissioned by the Michigan Venture Capital Association, showed a 20 percent increase in the number of West Michigan startup companies over the last three years.

Start Garden plays a significant role in the growth of entrepreneurship, but the Michigan Economic Development Corporation also provides resources to university students to start their entrepreneurial journey.

Fred Molnar, vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation at MEDC, said MEDC’s E&I initiative provides high-tech startup companies with access to a variety of critical resources, such as funding and expert counsel, from ideation to maturation.

According to Denise Graves, university relations director at MEDC, some of the programs include Mentors-in-Residence, Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization, and Michigan Corporate Relations Network.

Graves said the Mentors-in-Residence program provides business advice, market expertise and connections from a mentor to those working on commercialization projects from all universities within the state. The MTRAC program supports applicants from institutions of higher education with high-tech projects on the path to commercialization to get their projects out of the lab and into the market, and MCRN provides collaboration between university researchers and small companies.

“Each program supports in a different way and often at a different level of the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Graves said.

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