Small Business & Startups

Start Garden 100 grows, increases diversity

Startup competition saw participation increase of 24%.

October 18, 2019
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Start Garden 100
This year’s Start Garden 100 saw more women competitors than men. Courtesy Start Garden

This year, more people turned their entrepreneurial ideas into reality at one entrepreneurial competition.

The second annual Start Garden 100 saw a 24% increase in ideas submitted for the startup competition, where 100 finalists were selected and awarded $1,000 each. Eventually, the 100 individuals were narrowed down to 10 winners on Demo Day and given $20,000.

There were 772 ideas submitted this year. Last year, 621 ideas were submitted through a 100-second video recording.

The competition also saw a diversity change. This year, 51% of the competitors were women and 48% were men, compared to last year, which saw 44% women to 56% men.

The ethnicity of the participants also changed this year. Thirty-six of the participants were Caucasian, 45 were African American, 14 were Latino and five were registered as other. Last year, 47 of the participants were Caucasian.

Despite all the changes in the demographics, the industries the competitors represented were relatively the same.

Twenty-six of the entrepreneurial ideas were tech-related, 29 of the ideas were products, 24 of the ideas were related to the service industry, 11 of the ideas represented the food industry, four of the ideas were retail and six represented social impact initiatives.

Last year’s ideas featured 28 tech companies, 27 physical products, 18 new service providers, 15 food entrepreneurs, seven social impact initiatives and five retail concepts.

“There is definitely a huge entrepreneurial spirit here in Grand Rapids,” said Jorge Gonzales, Start Garden co-director. “The ideas that came in last year, in my own words, were not as sophisticated as the ones that came in this year. I think that this year was more competitive. I think people realized that this is real money and people are winning $20,000. The ideas were really different from last year. It seemed like they really did their homework. They really had some tangible and awesome ideas. Honestly, I think that made it harder for the judges because easily out of the 100 who received the $1,000, I would argue that 30 of them were worthy of the $20,000, but unfortunately, we only have money to give to 10. There are some really good ideas out there, and we’ll continue to work with them, and hopefully, they will make it next year.

“Last year, we just felt that people had good ideas, but (they) did not do their homework as far as not doing the research or not doing market analysis. This year, it was like people were trying to throw us a business plan within 100 seconds.”

Two of the winners were Felisha Rodriguez and Nadia and Shatawn Brigham.

Rodriguez created a hair care product, CurlCase. The product was developed for people who want to maintain their curls.

“Working with Start Garden throughout this process has been amazing,” she said. “Truly a blessing. It's not just a matter of handing you money and leaving you to figure the rest out on your own. Start Garden is supporting you every step of the way to make sure you are successful. They connect you with many other agencies and resources that will help you grow your business or to help facilitate other needs your business may have.”

The Brighams launched the LLC for GRNoir Wine & Jazz earlier this year.

Nadia Brigham said they heard about Start Garden 100 and were planning to visit some of the Start Garden events and, hopefully, participate in the competition next year. However, with a little convincing, Nadia Brigham said, she decided to pitch their idea. 

“Making the 100 was a complete shock to us and to win on Demo Day was a complete game-changer for us,” she said. “We are (going to) use our $20,000 to finalize our branding and marketing, which includes nailing down the food, music and wine menus.”

As of Oct. 8, Nadia Brigham said they were in negotiations to lease a property in downtown Grand Rapids with hopes of opening their business in spring 2020. The business will offer over 76 different domestic and international wines. She also said they will feature wines that are minority owned and those who have labels that are owned by women or people of color.

“That will not be the totality of own inventory,” she said. “Those will just be the ones that are highlighted and featured because we want to make sure we capitalize on the fact that there is a growing trend, nationally and internationally, of women and people of color drinking wine, labeling wine and growing wine. We just want to honor that.”

Shatawn Brigham said they also hope to offer the space for company parties and receptions. 

“I think what Start Garden is doing in Grand Rapids and beyond is amazing,” he said. “The opportunities, not just with Demo Day, but being there for individuals to use as resources to get their ideas off the ground. We’ve met some amazing people at Start Garden who are going on to do some wonderful things. We are looking forward to some of the great businesses and entrepreneurship that are coming out of Start Garden.”

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