Start Garden invests $20K more in all-natural energy bar


ERG! energy bars are handmade with all-natural ingredients in Traverse City. Photo via

Two rose. Two rose higher. And five fell.

It’s all part of Start Garden putting a total of $35,000 into startup ideas this week.

Funding continued for two of the seven startup ideas that returned Thursday for Start Garden’s Update Night, a monthly event when the creators of funded ideas return to Start Garden’s headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids, at 50 Louis St., to present on their progress — to either receive additional funding or not.


ERG!, an idea for an all natural, Michigan created energy bar, reached the $20,000 level of funding yesterday.

Since ERG!’s initial $5,000 Start Garden investment in March, Dennis Bean-Larson, the idea creator, expanded the company’s direct sales network, adding two distributors and opening access to almost 100 more.

“There are thousands of new food products that come out every year, but the difference comes in the vision for the product or brand, and the founder’s ability to make growth happen,” said Mike Morin, Start Garden’s portfolio manager.

“Dennis has shown a tenacity to make ERG! big from the beginning, including establishing early distribution partners, quickly scaling his supply chain and manufacturing process to stay ahead of demand, while controlling quality.”

Two Women and a Hoe

Two Women and a Hoe, created by Jan Bills, did not reach the next level of funding, but did receive a new $5,000 investment from the Start Garden team.

With the original investment, Bills had completely transformed her idea into a new concept named Garden Hoe, which creates a line of functional and stylish work pants for women.

Her business turnaround impressed the team, said Rick DeVos, CEO and founder of Start Garden, and earned her another chance.

“Jan surprised us with her update. She came back with a completely new idea, built upon her successful brand, Two Women and a Hoe. She also brought a new relationship with a great mentor,” DeVos said. “She is an experienced entrepreneur, with a strong mentor, which gives us confidence in her ability to see the project through.”

Start Garden’s next Update Night will be Thursday, June 27.

For Start Garden's weekly $10,000 startup investment, the team funded Greenitian, and the Start Garden community endorsed Birdhouse for Autism, with each idea receiving $5,000.


Greenitian, created by self-described mompreneur Christina Malone, is an idea to manufacture reusable sandwich bags to sell to local schools as a fundraising program, offering the schools and other organizations part of the profits.

Malone would like to take the model and expand to other schools and nonprofits across the country.

“There are over 13,000 school districts in the U.S. and countless nonprofits that are always looking for new ways to raise funds to support their programs,” she writes on her Start Garden page.

“This green program replaces the sale of unhealthy, consumable goods, a common choice for school fundraisers, and offers a healthy, reusable, earth-friendly option," she writes. "The end result: financially healthier schools and nonprofits, healthier kids and a healthier planet.”

The Birdhouse

The Birdhouse, created by Ben Chutz, is an idea for a care-management app and web platform used as a digital journal for families living with autism.

Chutz, who is raising an 8-year-old with autism, wants the app to provide predictive behavior analytics, creating better informative care for families, educators, therapists and researchers.

“Providing a digital alternative to notebooks removes the possibility of misplacing important information and recording the right data in the right way. And by providing more than just a social network, Birdhouse offers parents greater support with actionable insights and contributes to world knowledge,” he writes on his Start Garden page.

“Partnering with brick and mortar service providers and clinics around the U.S. gives exposure and strategic advantage to Birdhouse. By offering Birdhouse to families at a nominal subscription cost and licensing anonymous, HIPAA compliant, data to researchers, Birdhouse ensures multiple revenue streams.”

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