Start Garden commits to deploying $1M in grants over next three years

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Rick DeVos. Photo by Adam Bird

Start Garden has committed to distributing more than $1 million in small grants to entrepreneurs in Grand Rapids over the next three years and is looking ahead to its next event where the 100 Ideas finalists will square off for an additional $20,000 per winner on Wednesday, Sept. 29.

Operating under the belief that the best way to move entrepreneurs forward is to get resources directly into their hands, Start Garden’s monthly 5×5 Night and annual 100 Ideas competitions have become dependable sources for a wide dispersion of entrepreneurial grants, which impact over 80 different businesses per year.

“Start Garden’s data consistently shows the outsized impact that supporting an entrepreneur at their very beginning can have on a region’s economic growth,” said Rick DeVos, founder of Start Garden and CEO of Wakestream Ventures, a venture capital fund that spun off Start Garden in 2016 to focus on early-stage generalist investments. “If a city wants to promote innovative, fast-growing companies, it first needs to act as a playground where entrepreneurs have room to experiment with new ideas.”

As a 501(c)3, Start Garden’s funding takes the form of small grants of $1,000, $5,000 and $20,000, which are distributed through its 5×5 Night and 100 Ideas platforms. Throughout the years, thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs in the region have submitted their ideas to these platforms with no strings attached, as current grants do not require payback from the entrepreneur or for Start Garden to take an ownership stake in the companies.

“Our numbers show that while talent is evenly distributed, opportunity is often not. Over the past nine years, it’s been amazing to witness the impact these starter investments have had,” said Paul Moore, co-director at Start Garden. “It’s often the first push to get an entrepreneur running. The amount of feedback and success stories we have received from past participating companies has been overwhelming, so our goal of continuing to effectively distribute these funds across a pool of talented and engaging entrepreneurs is really a no-brainer.”

Paul Moore. Courtesy Start Garden

Start Garden built the 5×5 Night and 100 Ideas platforms as level playing fields to access real resources, all of which cannot be done without a community of support and other like-minded organizations such as SpringGR, a mentoring and networking organization for entrepreneurs, that have helped form Grand Rapids into an entrepreneurial leader over the past decade.

Financial backers of Start Garden include the DeVos Family Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Meijer DEI Initiatives and the Grand Rapids SmartZone, along with myriad other corporate sponsors and philanthropists.

“The Start Garden platforms amplify the ideas of participants across a variety of races, genders and age groups, ensuring that aspiring entrepreneurs from any neighborhood or educational background have their chance at launching a new business,” said Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. “It’s a huge opportunity for our region to seek and find new innovations from the people and places where traditional investors aren’t involved. It’s been a citywide sprint to launch new businesses, and this event really captures that momentum. It makes you excited to be a part of this city.”

Start Garden’s 100 Ideas competition, which distributes $300,000 in entrepreneurial grants, resumed in 2021 after diverting its funds from 2020 toward COVID relief programs.

On Aug. 3, Start Garden announced the 100 finalists that each received $1,000 to prepare for the upcoming Demo Day — the culmination of this communitywide investment in the businesses and organizations of tomorrow.

At Demo Day, all 100 finalists compete to be among a minimum of 10 winners that will receive another $20,000 toward continued incubation of their projects.

Start Garden’s Demo Day is Wednesday, Sept. 29, at GLC Live at 20 Monroe. It is open to the public.

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