SmartZone selects operators to manage technology incubator services

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Jeremiah Gracia. Courtesy Robb McCormick Photography

The city of Grand Rapids’ SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA) approved an agreement with Spartan Innovations and Start Garden to collaborate and manage its SmartZone Incubator and related high-tech business support services.

In response to the city’s request for proposals issued this past spring, Spartan Innovations and Start Garden submitted separate proposals. The SmartZone LDFA selected both operators, contingent upon the successful collaboration with each other to implement the SmartZone LDFA project’s goals and objectives.

Spartan Innovations and Start Garden will collaboratively fill the role of incubator operators within the city’s Certified Technology District, starting last week (Sept. 15) and running through June 30, 2024.

Their services are aligned to achieve the goals detailed in the city’s Equitable Economic Development and Mobility Strategic Plan and detailed in approved scopes of work. Under the terms of the three-year, $5.5 million investment, the SmartZone program budget shall not exceed $1 million in capital and startup costs and $1.5 million in operational support per year, contingent upon actual tax capture and/or available fund balance. Spartan Innovations will receive $761,000 per year for operations, and Start Garden will receive $739,000 per year for operations.

The partners will coordinate and collaborate on entrepreneurship services and address business development needs and services for high-tech, high growth businesses located within the city and within its district. Services will include entrepreneur-in-residence programs, lease space for high-tech, high-growth companies and related entrepreneur support programming.

The partners have developed metrics that will guide the work and services offered to the Grand Rapids high-tech, high-growth entrepreneur community. The metrics have a focus on companies served, funds raised, companies expanded and the sustainability of the SmartZone by obtaining outside funding. The incubator also will operate with an overall focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“This partnership gives Grand Rapids’ SmartZone a competitive advantage,” said Jeremiah Gracia, economic development director for the city of Grand Rapids. “It melds the distinct and individual expertise of two partners to benefit and energize the local economy. We are pleased (by) the synergy that will be created from this collaboration.”

Each of the SmartZone collaborators is ready to get the partnership underway for the benefit of the community and local economy, they said.

“This is an exciting initiative, and Spartan Innovations, along with the MSU College of Human Medicine and our other affiliated entities, are thankful for the opportunity to work with LDFA and the Grand Rapids community partners to help build out a world-class entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Jeff Wesley, executive director of Spartan Innovations. “All of the components are here, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Paul Moore, co-director of Start Garden, added: “Whether coming from a university or a neighborhood, the goal is for Grand Rapids to be the best place for an innovative entrepreneur to start and stay.”

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