Startups are thriving in West Michigan


A recent report by the Michigan Venture Capital Association indicates West Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is as healthy as it’s ever been.

The MVCA’s 2017 West Michigan Entrepreneurial study revealed that in the past three years, there has been a 20 percent increase in the number of startups in West Michigan, comprising the Grand Rapids, Holland and Kalamazoo MSAs. The 28 venture-backed startups in the region represent 20 percent of the total number of startups in the state, which is comparable to Detroit’s 25 percent representation.

But despite the encouraging growth numbers for the region, West Michigan’s biggest strength may be its balanced stage diversification. According to the report, 36 percent of West Michigan venture-backed startups are in the seed stage, 28 percent are in startup or early stage and 29 percent are in the growth or expansion stage. MVCA Executive Director Maureen Miller Brosnan said a balanced pipeline at various growth stages makes West Michigan a more attractive destination for startups.

“That is amazingly healthy as a community, and what it says to entrepreneurs is that as they grow and build their company, they will have financing at each stage to get to that point of establishing,” Miller Brosnan said. “You look at other states that are competing in the same arena, they have great seed stage and can get companies out of the lodge into their first stage but not always have the follow-on funding.

“Michigan, in general, has proven that they have this second stage of funding, but I don’t know that it’s as strong as it is on the west side, and I think that’s what’s exciting in West Michigan.”

Miller Brosnan said it’s important to remember regions within West Michigan aren’t competing with one another, as it is more of a “high-tide-raises-all-boats” scenario.

And the West Michigan and Detroit regions complement each other in industry diversification — while Detroit’s startups primarily operate in the IT industry (43 percent of startups in the region), West Michigan’s startup focuses tend to lean toward the life sciences industry (50 percent, followed by IT at 29 percent).

If Michigan’s startup ecosystem continues to do well, it can draw in venture capitalists from out of state, creating stronger investment and bringing out-of-state experience onto the boards of these startups. As Michigan still is a relatively young state when it comes to venture capitalism — the MVCA is just 16 years old — that experience is almost as valuable as the capital.

“We think we have something that is sustainable,” Miller Brosnan said. “When we compare to other states ‘better’ than us in capital under management, Michigan surfaces time and again in comparable research, talent and ideas.”

She added that last year, for every dollar funded by a Michigan VC firm, there was $4.61 invested from out of state. Additionally, while West Michigan accounts for just six of the 33 VC firms in Michigan, half of the venture firms in the state have active investments in West Michigan startups.

Miller Brosnan said West Michigan’s growing reputation as an attractive place to live has had an enormous impact on the region’s startup economy. The report cites Grand Rapids’ standing as the fastest-growing economy in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Forbes’ 2016 ranking of Grand Rapids as the “Best Buy City” for housing as some of the region’s top draws. A 12.8 percent cheaper cost of living in West Michigan and assets, such as the Kalamazoo Promise and proximity to the Great Lakes, also contribute to West Michigan’s strong startup ecosystem.

Miller Brosnan said the numerous resources available to entrepreneurs is one of the region’s strongest draws, naming Start Garden and its spin-off Wakestream, Zeeland-based Lakeshore Advantage and events like Michigan State University’s Demo Days.

“That’s really where we get this rich average that enables entrepreneurs to build strong businesses,” she said. “Everything on the west side is coming together to make West Michigan a better place, and we’re seeing when there's more capital available anywhere in the state of Michigan, the state as a whole does better.

“We are encouraged by the fact that West Michigan is emerging as one of the top places in the country to build your career, raise your family and put your businesses.”

West Michigan’s 28 VC-funded startups

Ablative Solutions*

Armune BioScience*

Blue Medora*

Cirius Therapeutics*


Magnesium Development Company*


Metabolic Solutions Development Company*


Sportsman Tracker*

Varsity News Network*



AureoGen Bioscience


Blackbird RSVP


Empirical Biosciences

Fiber By-Products



Lynx Network Group



Native Traits



Tetra Discovery Partners

*VC Backed within the past year

Source: 2017 West Michigan Entrepreneurial Study

West Michigan Startups Industry Diversification

50% Life Science

29% Information Technology

7% Consumer Products

4% Business Services

3% Media

7% Other

Source: 2017 West Michigan Entrepreneurial Study

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