Start Garden was founded by Rick DeVos in 2012 and began in a small storefront in downtown Grand Rapids.
What began as a venture capital fund to boost startup companies now is a catalyst for aspiring entrepreneurs of all backgrounds to ignite Grand Rapids with their business ideas.
Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, Start Garden provides platforms such as pitch competitions, kitchen incubators, startup weekends, food carts and festivals to promote entrepreneurship.
The organization’s most noteworthy programs are the monthly 5×5 pitch competition, where startups have a chance to win $5,000 for their five-minute pitch, and the annual 100 Ideas competition, where 100 finalists each are awarded $1,000 to participate in a later demo day for a chance to win another $20,000.
Start Garden was founded by Rick DeVos in 2012 and began in a small storefront in downtown Grand Rapids. The organization that same year launched a $15 million fund to accelerate early-stage startups.
The approach was to invest $5,000 into ideas every week, $20,000 each month to further incubate some of those ideas and up to $500,000 to invest any single startup.
A year later, Start Garden made its first $500,000 investment in Blue Medora, a Grand Rapids-based software company specializing in IT analytics and operations.
After two years of awarding $5,000 investments to two ideas each week (one based on a public vote) Start Garden reduced the $5,000 distribution to one a week. A growing portfolio of companies with $100,000-$500,000 in investment pushed Start
Garden to change strategy around how it will keep pace with its existing startups.
The organization in 2015 relocated its current home in the historic Trust Building at 40 Pearl St. NW.
To direct more resources in the existing portfolio, Start Garden ceased the $5,000-$20,000 process, and promotional efforts focused on drawing national investment interest to Michigan.
In 2016, Start Garden separated into three separate entities to better serve small businesses and entrepreneurs, while maintaining a for-profit fund.
The organization was reestablished as a nonprofit called the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Initiative. Without the obligation of being a venture capital fund, Start Garden said it could serve small businesses and community building efforts that directly effect entrepreneurship as a whole, not just a portfolio of startups.
Start Garden’s for-profit fund, now called Wakestream, continues to participate at higher levels as portfolio companies raise multimillion dollar rounds.
Another nonprofit, formerly known as eMerge West Michigan, was renamed Start Garden Foundation to continue it’s mandate to serve new startups regionally and to better serve first-time entrepreneurs in underserved communities.
The organization also changed its leadership to a shared power structure to help build a system that breaks from historical disparities in entrepreneurship. Darel Ross II, former co-executive director of Linc Up, and Jorge Gonzalez, former executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, joined Start Garden in 2017 as co-leaders with
Mike Morin and Paul Moore to ensure all the organization’s work has equitable outcomes.
Signaling Start Garden’s change toward more equitable outcomes, Laurie Supinske came to Star Garden in April 2016 as Program Manager and in March 2021 she took the position as Director.
2018 heralded the organization’s first 100 Ideas competition where anyone from anywhere in any language could submit a 100 second pitch to be chosen for the competition.
Eight hundred and twelve people registered to participate in the competition, and 612 ideas were submitted via video. Of all the applications, 52% were male, and 46% were female. By ethnicity, 59% were Caucasian, 29% were African-American, 10% were Hispanic, and 3% were Asian.
Income levels showed an equal distribution of participants, with those making less than $50,000 making up the majority at 57%. Soldadera Coffee is a prime Start Garden success story, the family- and Latino-owned coffee company was one of 10 winners of Start Garden’s 2018 100 ideas competition and took home the Demo Day grand prize of $20,000.
The company since has landed drinks on store shelves in Meijer’s Bridge Street Market, Kingma’s Market, Art of the Table, and many more places. It also secured deals with SpartanNash and Gordon Food Service and this year entered a deal with Meijer to sell product in Meijer-brand supermarkets.
Haz clic para leer en Español: Start Garden Celebra 10 años de emprendimiento comunitario