Start Garden graduates are making their mark

Start Garden has been involved in Sportsman Tracker since its inception. The digital platform provides hunters and anglers with information and resources on when and where the best time is to start outdoor sports. Courtesy of Matt Read

Start Garden has made its presence felt in the business community of this region since its inception nine years ago by Rick DeVos.

Today, some of those Start Garden “graduates” are making their mark in the business community of West Michigan – and around the world.

The entrepreneurial ecosystem has invested financial, intellectual and social capital in hundreds of entrepreneurs, connecting them to essential resources at their stage of growth. Start Garden has created contests such as 5 × 5 Night and 100 Ideas for the benefit of those looking to turn their ideas into the business they are considering.

The 5 × 5 competition allows up to five finalists to present their ideas in five minutes to five judges who then decide which idea wins. Winners of 5 × 5 contests receive $ 5,000 to develop their idea.

Some of the people who have benefited from Start Garden’s 5 × 5 resources are Derik Lolli with Benefit Mobile, Jeff Courter with Sportsman Tracker, Jason Mejeur with MaxOne and Ben Harrison with Jonas Paul Eyewear.

Benefit Mobile was born out of Lolli’s experience selling stacks of plastic gift cards to raise money for her children’s school. It has morphed into an app-based platform to sell digital gift cards as fundraisers.

Benefit Mobile has since raised millions of dollars in investor funds and in 2018 merged with an industry leading company. At the end of 2020, it was sold to one of the biggest companies in the gift card industry.

“It is every entrepreneur’s dream to create a business that is considered successful for both its investors and its community,” said Lolli, Founder and CEO of Benefit Mobile. “I am eternally grateful to Start Garden for believing in Benefit and contributing not only dollars but also much-needed network, advice and guidance throughout our nine-year journey. With their help, we were able to donate millions of dollars to local schools and nonprofits, all while leading to an exciting outing for our team. We look forward to seeing the future impacts under new ownership. “

The purchase price of Benefit Mobile is confidential, under the terms of the transaction agreement, but it is significant.

“The initial investment in Benefit Mobile allowed us to secure a small portion of the company’s ownership – low single-digit numbers if we’re talking about a percentage,” said Paul Moore, director of Start Garden. “But his success more than covered the 300 or so small investments of $ 5,000 and $ 20,000 that we made to build an entrepreneurial culture that Derek grew up on. And while it’s great that we’ve covered our costs, the biggest victory is that we’ve inspired hundreds of entrepreneurs to take action and give their ideas a chance.

Courter is the co-founder of Sportsman Tracker, a digital platform that provides hunters and anglers with information and resources on when and where the best time is to start their outdoor sports. The company’s flagship app is called HuntWise.

“Start Garden was really part of the initial training of our business from day one,” Courter said. “I developed an idea and around the same time I had the initial assumption of what we were doing they had their 5 × 5 Night. We brought that concept to it and we had our first success there. They gave us $ 5,000, then $ 20,000 later. We incorporated in 2015, but they invested in us before that, so they helped us from the start.

In addition to the money, Courter said Start Garden provided them with work space at 40 Pearl Street in Grand Rapids as they began to emerge as a business. The nonprofit has also surrounded them with people who know about entrepreneurship and some of these people are currently members of the Sportsman Tracker team.

“When you start out as a founder you don’t know what you don’t know, so they’ve helped foster our growth by surrounding us with people who have helped us get to where we are now,” he said. -he declares.

In 2020, the company launched HuntCast 2.0, which is mapping technology to cover public and private land boundaries for all 50 states to go hunting, unlock 3D mapping options, and provide over 350 state and federal map overlays. The app also offers downloadable options such as offline maps, peak times for over a dozen North American species, and landowner plot and contact hunting.

In 2018, Start Garden revealed a new initiative called 100 Ideas where individuals can submit 100-second videos of themselves presenting their idea. There were 812 people who entered the competition in 2018. About 100 people were selected and they received $ 1,000 to invest in their ideas.

These 100 people returned for a demo day event to explain why they should be among 10 chosen for an additional $ 20,000. Later, 10 people are chosen to win $ 20,000.

The competition was held in 2018 and 2019. It was halted in 2020 due to the pandemic, but this year the competition is back and individuals can submit their ideas until July 26.


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