As the son of entrepreneurs, Corey Hart caught the small business building bug at age 8 while washing dishes. Hart’s career spans a wide array of locations and industries, which makes him a unique addition as the chapter director for StartUp Grind GR, a global community of entrepreneurs. Listen to the end to hear associate publisher Justine Burdette and staff writer Kate Carlson run down a list of local resources for aspiring business owners and sources of funding. Here are some highlights from the inter-view with Hart:
Your entrepreneurial journey spans decades, industries and coasts. Tell us a little about those experiences.
My father owned restaurants, and that was really a good view into the stresses and the ups and downs of entrepreneurism. But once you’re addicted to it, there’s no going back. So at 16, I started my own DJing business in high school and that grew into a 20-year career in entertainment. I opened a nightclub in a restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids, but then moved to California where I owned/operated a few concepts and did restaurant consulting. That led me to food innovation, like how to make oranges orangeier and chips chippier. Then that led to food tech and that led me to tech in the Bay Area and raising capital. I came back to GR to be a dad, and started my current consulting business and working with StartUp Grind.
Your website says you’re a startup adviser, a scale-up adviser, an incremental CXO, and then a food business and hospitality adviser. How exactly do you make money doing all the things that you do?
There’s a lot of us out there that have deep experience and we love to help others. There’s a point in most careers where you’re like, ‘I should start giving back.’ You either do that proactively or people just start asking you to just do it. Eventually I told myself, ‘OK, I’ll just say yes a lot when people ask me to help.’ It took me a minute to really understand this, but to make money at it, you have to ask for the money; you have to ask people to pay you. That was one simple thing I never did. Once I started asking them to pay me, they did. It’s funny how that works.
You also have listed on your website that you are an ‘ally and insurgent.’ What does that mean? Why is it important?
West Michigan is historically famous for silos, segregation and limited opportunity, both around class, race, age, etc. and also around ideas and belonging around a table and being encouraged. When I returned home, I just really wanted to create a more inclusive and welcoming spot where people feel like they belong just because it just makes for better enterprises, better life, happier groups of people and more opportunity for all. I boil it down to equity and I’m just trying to tear down the barriers where I see them and help people climb over them when I can.