GRAND RAPIDS -- After weeks of speculation, Rick DeVos' Pomegranate Studios, creator of ArtPrize, Momentum and 5x5 Night, Thursday introduced its latest initiative before a crowd of Michigan business leaders.
Called Start Garden, it is a new venture capital fund that will invest $5,000 in two ideas each week, then continue to invest incrementally as they gain momentum. The fund is backed by a $15 million dollar commitment from the DeVos family.
The Start Garden fund is designed to remove the barriers for an idea to become a project and a project to become a startup business. The initiative's ultimate goal is to make Michigan an amazing place to have an idea and run with it.
"A lot of regions are making it easier for startup businesses to get funding," said Rick DeVos, founder of Pomegranate Studios. "With Start Garden, we took a step back and imagined an incredibly friendly place for new ideas. Somewhere you could have an idea one night, then have a little money and meetings set up to start proving it out within a few days."
Each week, Start Garden will invest in two ideas submitted to the Web site www.startgarden.com. Each idea will receive $5,000. One of the ideas will be chosen by Start Garden team members, the broader community will select the other. Each week, the public has the opportunity to visit startgarden.com and endorse the idea they like the most. The idea with the most supporters at the end of each week receives the second $5,000 investment.
"Anyone familiar with my past projects knows I enjoy getting the public involved with a 'vote'," added DeVos. "It's not just to find out what people like, an idea has a much better chance of success when an entire community gets behind it."
Start Garden will unfold in stages. The first stage provides the necessary resources. The DeVos family's $15 million commitment is used to invest in new ideas, and then work with those ideas to grow them into new businesses. Start Garden places a lot of small bets across a wide variety of ideas with an expectation to earn a return on a few great innovations that emerge.
Each person who receives the initial $5,000 investment has 60-90 days to get some traction with his or her idea, and return to give an in-person update at a public event. The update informs Start Garden management and mentors which candidate made a smart use of the funds. Ideas can receive an additional $20,000 to continue to move forward. Projects that demonstrate success and continued growth can ultimately receive as much as $500,000 dollars in incremental investments.
Start Garden is bringing in the business community of the region to help mentor these projects. Several national corporations including, Steelcase, Amway, Cascade Engineering, Fifth Third Bank, among others, have already made a commitment to provide their expertise and resources to make this endeavor a success.
"Start Garden is one of our most ambitious projects to date and is the culmination of several years of work by the entire Pomegranate Studios team," DeVos said. "However, Start Garden won't be successful if it's just a few of us doing something big. Thousands of people doing small things in the same direction is the only way to make Michigan an incredible place for new ideas to grow."
The Web site www.startgarden.com went live Thursday to accept ideas and endorsements for those ideas. The only rule for what kind of idea can be submitted is that it should have potential to become a business. The first $5,000 investments will be decided on Thursday, May 3, and a new week of idea submissions will begin.
Pomegranate Studios is a business incubator focusing social entrepreneurship and empowering individual voices through technology. Located in Grand Rapids, it is the brainchild of Rick DeVos and the source of other successful projects including ArtPrize, Momentum and Five By Five nights.
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