The Rapidian

Start Garden holds inaugural Update Night

Update Night enlightens public to area entrepreneurship, with updates from funded projects and the possibility for more funding to be awarded at the event.
Underwriting support from:
Michael Miller presents NxtMile Sports Insoles

Michael Miller presents NxtMile Sports Insoles /Bryan Frank

Marc Andreas of NetValue presents his idea

Marc Andreas of NetValue presents his idea /Bryan Frank

Less than three months after its inception, Start Garden returned to the public eye on Thursday evening with its inaugural Update Night.

“The point is really a much larger public conversation what they’re doing, what’s effective, who can get involved, and to build this larger ecosystem where we are talking about these ideas and helping them along,” said Paul Moore, Start Garden’s Marketing Director and Update Night’s moderator.

A $15 million venture capitalist fund, Start Garden invests a weekly sum of $5,000 to two ideas, one voted on by the public with the other selected by a Start Garden committee. Update Night intends to keep entrepreneurs accountable to their start-ups and the community.

Hosted by the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Update Night gave already funded entrepreneurs the forum to apprise the public of their start-up’s progress. At the conclusion of the evening, the Start Garden panel announces a decision to decline, postpone or continue funding—most often at the $20,000 level.

Eight entrepreneurs, including the four initially funded, reintroduced their ideas to the community by answering three fundamental questions: “What was the assumption, what was the experiment, and what was learned?”

The ideas ranged from DeltaBike, a collaborative electric motorcycle production company, to One Second Epic, an app that condenses second-long bits of video into a continuous, comprehensive video. This diverse spectrum of entrepreneurial opportunity is what local enterprising maven Rick DeVos hoped to achieve with the launch of Start Garden.

Tonna Agim, founder of Suya Foods, a packaged line of African food products, was funded the initial $5,000 in early May. Since then, he has earned a USDA license and carved himself a niche in the West Michigan food market. As a child in Ghana, Agim saw the “Made in USA” stamp on household products. Today, Suya Foods proudly boasts a “Made in Michigan” stamp of its own.

“The American dream is really the ability to dream and then see your dream come to pass,” said Agim, who’s idea received a “not now” from the panel, meaning that his idea will receive continued attention with the option for later funding.

Financially, Michael Miller was the night’s big winner. Miller’s company, NxtMile Sport Insoles, received a $50,000 investment from the panel.

“This is really the launch of the business. We’re about to become a company,” said Miller.

Opportunities like Miller’s are what Start Garden aims for. Joe Johnston, creator of One Second Epic, represented the other entrepreneur to walk away with an investment, his totaling $20,000.

But most importantly, Update Night captures Start Garden’s broader emphasis on generating public conversation. To DeVos and his team, this deserves top priority.“[That this is a public event is] really important to us. The extent to which decisions about investment have been happening in West Michigan, they’ve been underground and somewhat disconnected from each other," said DeVos. "By making it public, everyone in the room can learn from it."

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