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Published in Economic Development

Start Garden, Spartan Innovations selected to manage GR SmartZone incubator

BY Thursday, September 09, 2021 10:06am

GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Local Development Finance Authority has approved an agreement for Spartan Innovations L3C and Start Garden Inc. to collaborate and manage the city’s SmartZone business incubator and related tech business support services. 

The two organizations submitted separate proposals when the SmartZone LDFA put out a request for proposals earlier this year from companies to run its business incubator. The LDFA recommended both organizations, contingent upon a successful collaboration agreement between all parties. 

Jeremiah Gracia COURTESY PHOTO

Start Garden has administered the city’s business incubator program since April 2016, and its contract was up for renewal this year.

Bethesda, Md.-based Regionerate LLC was retained to oversee the selection process, which consisted of a seven-member review committee. It was the review committee’s recommendation for both organizations to collaborate in administering the business incubator program going forward because the companies bring different strengths to the table. 

Start Garden’s main strength was identified as putting an intentional focus on equity and building a diverse pipeline of entrepreneurs and strong engagement with community organizations. Spartan Innovations is an East-Lansing-based subsidiary of the Michigan State University Foundation that is part of the MSU Innovation Center, and was identified by the review committee as being a qualified technology incubator. 

“This partnership gives Grand Rapids’ SmartZone a competitive advantage,” Grand Rapids Economic Development Director Jeremiah Gracia said in a statement. “It melds the distinct and individual expertise of two partners to benefit and energize the local economy. We are pleased (about) the synergy that will be created from this collaboration.”

The partners have agreed to collaborate and operate the incubator within the City Certified Technology District from Sept. 15 through June 30, 2024. Under the terms of the three-year, $5.5 million contract, the SmartZone program budget can’t exceed $1 million in capital and startup costs and $1.5 million in operational support per year, contingent upon actual tax capture or available fund balance. 

Under the SmartZone agreement, Spartan Innovations will receive $761,000 a year while Start Garden will receive $739,000 a year for operations. 

“This is an exciting initiative and Spartan Innovations, along with the MSU College of Human Medicine and our other affiliated entities, are thankful for the opportunity to work with LDFA and the Grand Rapids community partners to help build out a world class entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Jeff Wesley, executive director of Spartan Innovations, said in a statement. 

Services will include addressing business development needs and services for high-tech, high growth businesses located within the city and the technology district.

“Whether coming from a university or a neighborhood, the goal is for Grand Rapids to be the best place for an innovative entrepreneur to start and stay,” Start Garden Director Paul Moore said in a statement.

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