GRAND RAPIDS – Start Garden, the Grand Rapids-based fund that aims to help spur start-up activity, has some new digs.
The $15 million venture capital fund cut the ribbon today on a new downtown office and meeting space that it hopes will become a hub for entrepreneurial activity in West Michgian. The new space, which Start Garden executives casually refer to as a "clubhouse," is located in the landmark Trade Center Building, 50 Louis Ave. NW. The new space will host Start Garden’s regular update night as well as entrepreneurial-based classes and speaker events.
“We were exploring the idea of physical space for Start Garden for a while, zeroing in on what we wanted,” said Rick DeVos, founder of Start Garden. “Things just kind of aligned.”
Having the new space downtown gives Start Garden the ability to become a hub for entrepreneurial activity and the exchange and development of ideas, DeVos said in a speech to about 50 attendees.
“What it comes down to and what we continue encouraging individuals to do is what can you set up as an experiment, what can you validate,” he said. “Our $5,000 investments are all about validating a part of a business model.”
That model includes helping companies with "real world" evaluation of their plans for products, services and sales channels, he said.
“It doesn’t have to be full scale production of what you think (the business) needs to be in the future, but what’s the simplest way to test part of it right now,” DeVos said.
Start Garden worked with Orion Construction to outfit the hip first floor-space in the downtown building, which is owned by CWD Real Estate Development. With the announcement of Start Garden taking anchor space in the building, Scott Weirda, managing partner of CWD Real Estate, said interest in the building is spiking. Both professional and creative firms have their eye on space, he said. He estimates that the entire 75,000-square foot building could be leased in 12 to 18 months.
In addition to the city incentives the Downtown Development Authority signed off on yesterday, CWD is waiting for more building incentives to clear at the state level. The DDA’s Building Reuse Incentive Program will provide up to $75,000 to support restoration of the building’s historic façade and the installation of green design features. The DDA’s Development Support program also will provide up to $391,900 to improve building accessibility and help defray the costs associated with installing an elevator compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
CWD plans to move forward on redeveloping the other floors within the next 45 days and are working on concepts now, Weirda said.
"(Start Garden) definitely sets the tone of the building for one,” he said. “It’s very youthful, it’s very hip and very creative and that tends to draw a lot of people.”