Program provides burst of energy to startups


Underwater drone manufacturer Fathom is one of approximately 30 startups using the SURGE platform. Courtesy Fathom

To better assist entrepreneurs in West Michigan, Zeeland-based economic development agency Lakeshore Advantage launched a new initiative fueled by input from the entrepreneurs themselves.

SURGE is described as a collaborative one-stop shop for the entirety of Lakeshore Advantage’s resources portfolio, designed to connect entrepreneurs and startups at all stages of their development. The initiative was born following a conversation last fall with the Holland area entrepreneur community, which revealed some disconnect when it came to accessing the various services Lakeshore Advantage and the Holland SmartZone could provide.

“Previously, all these resources were sort of floating about, and our local entrepreneurs expressed some confusion about how they could access them,” said Brooke Corbin, Lakeshore Advantage manager of innovation solutions. “This creates one point of access for entrepreneurs, and we can help navigate the needs of these entrepreneurs from there.”

Though Lakeshore Advantage always has had a presence in the entrepreneurial biosphere, SURGE narrows the focus of assistance, funneling the needs of all the region’s startups into a focused pipeline.

“We’ve always been engaged with these startups, because they’re the future employers of this region and we want to make sure they have everything they need to thrive,” Corbin said. “The success of the SmartZone allowed us to extend that outreach, and this takes it a step further.”

Corbin said the name was chosen with input from Elsa Vogel, founder of Pieces of Me, to convey the message the program can provide a burst of energy to entrepreneurs at any stage in the startup process. Vogel also contributed the logo design, which incorporates a stylized “G” to resemble the power standby symbol.

“The whole point is that we’re not stage focused, but a place any entrepreneur in the region can come in and get a surge of growth, wherever they’re at,” Corbin said. “They can plug in at any stage — it’s a place for all entrepreneurs to access these resources to energize and surge forward.”

Corbin said about 30 startups are using the SURGE platform to access available entrepreneur resources, which include the Holland SmartZone, Business Accelerator Fund and the Entrepreneurial Support Network, as well as peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities and networking events.

In tandem with SURGE’s rollout, Lakeshore also announced it had helped underwater drone manufacturer Fathom to obtain a Business Accelerator Fund grant. Corbin said Fathom was one of the numerous entrepreneurs to provide feedback and support the initiative’s realization.

“This isn’t something we’re doing alone,” Corbin said. “The cool thing about SURGE and the West Michigan startup community is we’ve had companies, like Fathom, with us every step of the way providing input and even some mentoring.”

By maintaining a strong relationship with established startups and finding out where they struggled on the way to success, Corbin said SURGE aims to assist up-and-coming startups clear those hurdles without realizing they were even there.

“We’re trying to find and fill these gaps as these entrepreneurs are meeting them with the intent that in the future, these other startups won’t even have to see them,” Corbin said.

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