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Start Garden planted

Rick DeVos unveiled the details of his $15,000,000 venture capital fund on Thursday morning.

/Andrew Knot

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You bring the seeds, we’ll supply the field and the water: that’s the premise behind Start Garden, Rick DeVos’s venture capital fund designed to turn Michigan, specifically Grand Rapids, into an “ecosystem that’s the best place to get an idea.”

Revealed on Thursday in front of local business leaders at Grand Rapids JW Marriott Hotel, Start Garden represents the latest of DeVos’s entrepreneur projects. Similar to Momentum and 5x5 Night, this one hopes to give promising business ventures resources and an audience. Start Garden plans to fund over 100 budding ideas in the course of a year.

The idea is DeVos’s response to a desperate need for innovation and creative thinking in this business world, he said, citing a local and national lack.

“It’s a pain we feel deeply in Michigan,” he said. “But it’s not unique to us.”

Backed by a $15,000,000 commitment from the DeVos family, Start Garden will invest $5,000 in two start-up ideas every week.  Entrepreneurs can submit their ideas online. From there, a Start Garden team will select one idea and leave the second to a public vote.

With a first stage investment of $5,000, entrepreneurs are committed to presenting on the status of their project in Grand Rapids within 60-90 days. Ideas that show promise are eligible for an additional $20,000. The Start Garden team will increase its investments to up to $500,000 according to the success of an idea. DeVos plans to introduce the next stages with more detail in the summer. Ideas can also enter the investment stage at any level of the continuum, DeVos said.

Start Garden has already endorsed four ideas, all of which were represented at Thursday’s press conference. Among them was 599Work, the brainchild of Jonathan Bell. 599Work is an outlet for small-scale creative projects, like web design and photography, to network under the taxable minimum of $600. Bell’s project, which was discovered at 5x5 Night, originally stalled under the $5,000 investment. Under the Start Garden model, Bell has the potential to financially develop his project according to need.

Also present was Marc Andreas of Net Value, the self-advertised “Moneyball for Basketball.” Net Value, which is in discussions with the NBA, offers an in-depth statistical metric to measure basketball players.

Projects like 599Work and Net Value represent DeVos’s hope that Start Garden can foster a healthy environment. With any success, Start Garden will at least promote creative thinking and foster a new landscape of entrepreneurship in West Michigan.

“The soil is fertile for business here,” DeVos said.


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