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How a Start Garden grows

On the second floor of the historic Trust Building in downtown Grand Rapids, Start Garden's Director of Marketing and Communications, Paul Moore, points to the sunlit space near the windows in the front room and jokes that they plan to treat the barstool tables like beachfront property – designated shared workspace belonging to no specific startup habitating the venture fund's new "Start Garden Village" neighborhood on Pearl Avenue. 

"We got the point where it was getting really, really cumbersome to try and keep up with what was going on with the companies we were funding, because they're all kind of working in silos around the city," Moore says about the move from its old offices at 50 Ionia Avenue. "

Moore says the idea behind Start Garden Village isn't to create another collaborative workspace, but rather, a new piece of infrastructure lacking in Grand Rapids until now – a central hub for startups and entrepreneurs, regardless of whether or not they're funded by Start Garden, to come and share ideas, find investors and accelerate company growth

Though it has already been equipped with its own "neighborhood café," single-desk workspaces, conference rooms and private phone booths, the new hub will soon see the installation of "work pods," which Moore says were designed quite literally from the row-house concept. Right now, he added, the space has room for at least 100 people. 

Raising the stakes
The expansion is just one part of Start Garden's re-envisioning of its role in the West Michigan startup scene, which also includes an upgraded fund with the capacity to boost investment in growing companies up to $1.5 million, a significant increase from its previous $500,000 funding cap. 

"Here is where we've been, helping these companies figure out what they're not," Moore says. "In a certain way we're almost queuing them up to leave. At this point where a company would say, 'We don't need $500,000, we need $5 million,' the answer has been, 'Okay, go to the coast?' We didn't incubate all of these companies so they could come here and leave."

As far as investment in new business ideas go, Moore says two years ago it seemed like the biggest thing West Michigan needed was more experimentation and risk taking, and that's where Start Garden came in. Founded by Rick DeVos in 2012, Start Garden's initial goal was to find startups in their infancy, the very first project stage, and invest actual money. However, as those startups grew into companies with solidified visions, Moore says Start Garden found more and more that these new companies didn't need help growing their vision; they needed help growing their brand. 

"Now, two or three years later a lot of these 'projects' have grown into people who have left their day jobs to bring in new team members, co-founders, maybe even employees," he says. "They're actually working full-time at going from being projects to becoming companies that will hopefully grow quickly into something other people want to buy."

The New 5x5 Night
Though Start Garden will continue to invest smaller amounts in the $20-30,000 range in younger start-ups, they've handed over weekly investing to Emerge West Michigan, who is retooling the monthly pitch night and $5,000 reward into a member-based crowdfunding platform model. 

Now, grant funding for startups will be pooled from members' contributions and members will be allowed to become part of the judging process. 

"(Emerge) is actually writing checks, which is a big deal to us," Moore says. "You can launch an educational program for startups, but if they can't get funding to run, there's not a whole lot of application of the education they're getting. So Emerge is definitely getting into writing checks and it's also diversifying not only the investors that we've brought in over here, but also the city – where can people go when they have an idea, who can they talk to and how can they raise funds?' 

Onward & Upward
Moore says much like the companies who will now have funds to help mature past the project phase, Start Garden itself is using the transition into a new space and new funding model to make its own leap into adulthood – it's growing up. 

"Just as much as financial capital, we like to invest in intellectual and social capital. Building on to this space is almost entirely about intellectual and social capital investment," he says. "We want them to learn faster and meet new investors and new entrepreneurs and better entrepreneurs and get to know them on a much more relational level, so it seemed like we needed a place to actually house that kind of stuff." 

So, as more companies come to West Michigan to invest in the garden of startups they've grown here, Moore says a little bit of competition is exactly what they're waiting for. 

"If we were actually fighting to get into a deal on a company in the region, that would be awesome," he says. "That would be so great. It would mean the entrepreneurs have a lot of options for funding, but it would also mean that there are some really aggressive investors in the area and I think that it's kind of virtuous cycle. If you have a very large group of aggressive investors, you'll have a large group of aggressive entrepreneurs trying to get in on that funding." 

"I think the deals and the startups and the options only get better with more funding." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Start Garden to triple its downtown footprint to serve more startups

Rick DeVos shares how Start Garden is pruning its funding model

Start Garden's downtown HQ to open this week

Introducing Start Garden

Start Garden opens idea, mentoring space in downtown Grand Rapids

Geshmect, Gut!: Cedar Springs meets new brewery plans with open, optimistic arms

As far as catalysts for downtown development go, new breweries seem to have led the charge in many West Michigan cities like Holland, Hastings and Grand Rapids. As construction teams broke ground on the site of the future Cedar Springs Brewing Co. on Tuesday, its owner David Ringler was optimistic in his brewery's potential to do some of the same.

"There's a strong track record for these kinds of projects being a catalyst, I think. If you look at Brooklyn, New York; nobody was around, Brooklyn Brewery was in danger of being priced out of their own neighborhood when their lease came up," says Ringler, who cited Founder's Brewing Co. and Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids as local examples of anchor breweries leading to more development in their neighborhoods.  

"I think there's also a good track record of these types of businesses as good community partners and it attracts tourism, it attracts dollars from outside the community to come and visit," he says. 

Located along the White Pine Trail trailhead, the 5,700-square-foot brewery will have an outdoor biergarden that Ringler hopes will attract more customers with now-easy access from cities north of Cedar Springs. With large windows for maximum natural light, the steel, brick and glass building was designed to accommodate further expansion and fit in aesthetically with its existing neighbors.

Construction teams with developer Orion Construction finished demolition on the crumbling 1890s storefront at 95 North Main Street last month before construction began this week on the new building. Both the city's Mayor Mark Fankhauser and district Rep. Peter MacGregor gave congratulatory speeches at Tuesday's groundbreaking event, among other city officials who came out to support the new development. 

City Manager Thad Taylor says Cedar Springs Brewing Co. will be an anchor for the north end of Cedar Springs' business district and is in line with other proposed development in the few blocks immediately surrounding the site. 

"I think once Cedar Springs Brewing Co. gets up and running it'll bring a spotlight on our community and will hopefully attract some additional investments in our downtown area from current businesses expanding or new business coming into town," Taylor says. 

Inspired by the four years Ringler spent working as an apprentice with local brewmasters in Germany, the restaurant and brewery will have a full food menu, in-house made spirits, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages along with a variety of craft beers with a focus on the German styles that inspired the new business.   

Though he has already hired a brewmaster and chef, Ringler expects Cedar Springs Brewing Co. to create an additional 30 new full- and part-time jobs upon its scheduled completion in fall 2015. He isn't sure when they'll be making those hires quite yet, but says interested applicants should check Cedar Springs Brewing Co.'s website for hiring announcements in the coming months. 

"I'm just excited to get this going," Ringler says. "It's been what I've wanted to do for a long, long time and it's almost a bit of a relief; even though I'm working 12-16 hour days, it's fun and it doesn't feel like work." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images and renderings courtesy of Orion Construction

Growth in medical malpractice law, corporate law means more jobs at Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge

As law firm Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge rounds out specific practice areas and looks to grow others, new attorney positions have opened up.

The firm's 92 attorneys work out of four offices across Lower Michigan: the firm's headquarters in the renovated Ledyard Building in downtown Grand Rapids, and outlying offices in Ann Arbor, Traverse City, and Muskegon.

Two new attorneys will join the medical malpractice area in Grand Rapids, two more will join the Ann Arbor medical malpractice group, and a new shareholder in the corporate and real estate practices comes aboard next month.

These new hires, along with the addition of some seven attorneys in the past 16 months, keep Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge moving forward by having the right people in place at the right time, says Chief Operating Officer Lori Gibson.

"It's an exciting time here," says Gibson. "We are evolving and growing as a firm, and we are expanding and rounding out our practices in certain areas. I'm just thrilled about the new people coming on; these are some fantastic hires, and we're very excited about them."

When asked if there are any other immediate openings for newly graduated or experienced attorneys, Gibson says that the firm's focus is to get these new hires comfortable with the company culture and actively serving clients.

"With a firm our size, bringing on five new people in the next month or so, that's a lot," Gibson says. "We need to get those folks onboard, get them trained and integrated into the firm. But we have some areas that we would like to enhance, so we're keeping our eyes open and if the right person comes along we'll talk them."

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Expansion in historic Ledyard Building gives Grand Rapids law firm room to add jobs

Historic Grand Rapids Brewing Company to open expansive microbrewery next door to Van Andel Arena

The historic Grand Rapids Brewing Company (GRBC) that once operated in the heart of downtown will be back this summer in a new, expansive location next door to the Van Andel Arena, the heart of the city's busy entertainment district. The brewery, which was in business for over 100 years, first on Michigan and Ottawa and later on 28th St. SE, will be the groundfloor tenant at 1 and 7 Ionia SW with nearly 10,000 square feet and seating for 450.

Barfly Ventures, owned by Mark and Michelle Sellers, announced today that the new venue will be family-friendly, with children's menu items as well as 8 to 10 specialty beers, including a new version of GRBC's original Silver Foam beer. Barfly owns some of Grand Rapids' most popular gathering places in the entertainment district, including HopCat, McFadden's, Stella's Lounge and the The Viceroy and is a partner in The Pyramid Scheme, all within two blocks of the new GRBC location.

Derek Coppess of 616 Development and 616 Lofts recently purchased 1 and 7 Ionia SW and will combine the two buildings to create 26 loft apartments and commercial spaces on the upper floors. The buildings front along Ionia on the east and a brick paved alley on the west; 1 Ionia NW also runs along W. Fulton St., kitty corner from The B.O.B. and its proposed market/concert venue.

New indoor/outdoor seating, created by replacing three loading dock doors on the alley side with glass garage doors, will open the bar to the Van Andel Arena and provide outdoor seating for 15.

"This is arguably the prime spot for a bar in Grand Rapids. If I could pick any location, it would be this place or where The B.O.B is -- but that's taken," says Mark Sellers with a laugh. "To have three sides facing different streets is incredible."

Preliminary plans to host GRBC in the Brass Works Building fell through, Sellers says.

The new GRBC could create some 60 jobs. Sellers hopes to have the bar open sometime in August.

Architectural design: Greg Metz, Lott3Metz

Source: Mark Sellers, Barfly Ventures; Chris Knap, SeyferthPR
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Renderings: Dixon Architecture
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