Start Garden Brings Microfunding to Grand Rapids

Start Garden is a $15,000,000 fund to ‘turn ideas into actions’, and is the next evolution of Grand Rapids’ 5×5 Night – brought to you by Rick DeVos and execs from ArtPrize and (former) 5×5 Night members.

The executed model, however, resembles 5×5 night on steroids: an accelerator model where the group promises to invest $5k into two new ideas each week. One of the aforementioned ideas will be selected by the internal team at Start Garden, while the other will be crowd-sourced via popular vote on their website.

Each $5,000 idea has about two months to do something interesting. Then, the startups give in person updates at public events. The $5k note carries some contingencies: Essentially, right of first refusal and right to convert the investment into an equity interest. Then again, I’m not your attorney — so read the document and consult one rather than just taking my word at face value. 😉

Following these events, the Start Garden team may follow-on with a $20,000 investment, if they deem it prudent to do so.


The accelerator doesn’t seem to be solely focused on web startups either, having already funded an electric motorcycle company by the name of Deltabike, which “crowd Sources functions of the company from product design to engineering”.

For what it’s worth, the partner program is an area where I believe DeVos and company are really on to something: select employees from their corporate partners will devote time to working on Start Garden projects. Corporate partners include AmWay, Steelcase, Cascade, Universal Mind, and Fifth Third Bank. As mentioned on the website, this partnership gives Fifth Third a unique first mover advantage, with the opportunity to co-invest in startups as they evolve into later stage, and more highly developed companies.

It’s interesting to compare and contrast this accelerator effort to Detroit’s Bizdom, which is also going through an evolution of their own. Last fall they restructured their terms, aiming to model themselves after TechStars or Y Combinator ($10,000 in seed money, plus $4,500 per founder, in exchange for an 8 percent equity stake and a promise to locate their business in Detroit). In March, they rebranded with a new website and logo. Now, we hear they will be overhauling their leadership team as early as next week, which will now be led by a team of first-time entrepreneur/mentors.

To find out more about Start Garden’s program, you can attend a free overview on Wednesday, May 2 from 5-7PM where the team will discuss their program in detail. You may RSVP here. We’re excited to see how this project shapes up, and to learn more about the physical space they are currently constructing…