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Douglas Meijer Medical Innovation Building

Spartan Innovations, Start Garden Reports Strong 2021 Results with Sights on a Successful Year Ahead

Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Category: Spartan Innovations

CONTACT Cara Lutz Lambert & Co. 616-648-7506

Continued momentum projected for Grand Rapids economic development and startup ecosystem in 2022

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., JAN. 12, 2022 –– Spartan Innovations, a subsidiary to the Michigan State University Foundation, in partnership with Start Garden, today announced great headway into Q1 2022 at the Grand Rapids SmartZone LDFA board meeting on Jan. 12.

“2021 was an incredible year of growth and I couldn’t be prouder of our team and our ongoing citywide partnerships, especially with the LDFA,” said Jeff Wesley, executive director of Spartan Innovations, Michigan Rise, and Red Cedar Ventures. “It’s been extraordinary to see the Grand Rapids startup scene surge with unique innovation, winning technology and top-notch talent. Our new team now in Grand Rapids is an experienced group of professionals who bring such integral connections to the community and we look forward to our continued work with Start Garden and the LDFA in the Grand Rapids market.”

To recap, in its first quarter of work partnering with the Grand Rapids SmartZone, Spartan Innovations and Start Garden together had 114 engagements with high tech/high growth companies, and 22 companies were created. More than $1.1 million in funds were raised and venture funding, alone totaled $670,000.

Start Garden rounded out the year with 20 tech startups incubating out of its 40 Pearl location in the heart of Downtown Grand Rapids. In that together, 51% of companies served are to underrepresented business owners and $100,000 in direct funding was invested in underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Issuing more than $55,000 within the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Grand Rapids Business Accelerator Fund (BAF) and Gateway, these funds provided greater support to business accelerators in Michigan’s statewide SmartZone network. Throughout 2021, the funds served startups and high-tech companies impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

"2021 had the strongest and most diverse tech startups come through Start Garden's platforms that we've seen yet,” said Paul Moore, director of Start Garden. “Grand Rapids is an exploding market for investors searching for new deals and our plans for the year ahead will only help us create a stronger culture of entrepreneurship and invest whatever we can into that culture."

In addition to the MEDC’s BAF, successful programs supported by Spartan Innovations and Start Garden also included the Entrepreneur-In-Residence Program, Conquer Accelerator and 5x5 monthly pitch competition. To highlight, its Annual Startup Competition generated the strongest cohort of tech startups yet, with 650 submissions narrowed down to 28 selected tech startups. As a result, four startups were funded and 12 continue to incubate.

“The partnership results of the first quarter of work between Spartan Innovations and Start Garden are notable,” said Jeremiah Gracia, director of Economic Development for the City of Grand Rapids. “Company engagements and assistance continue to grow with a focus on increasing the number of underrepresented/underserved hi-tech business founders.  This is an important contribution the City’s Equitable Economic Development and Mobility Strategic Plan.”

With resilient momentum in 2022, Spartan Innovations has set ambitious goals for the BAF program for the next 12 months, which include:

  • Accelerating Economic Impact: Grow investments and coordinate with the Grand Rapids community in support for the benefit of the city.
  • Extending Support Services to Grand Rapids Companies: Support companies with other resources and services through Michigan State University, Red Cedar Ventures and more.
  • Elevating Peer to Peer Relationship: Continue to examine all BAF Smart Zones and partnership with the MEDC for opportunities to improve and ensure all best practices are in place.
  • Ramping Up Marketing & Communications: Expand outreach, grow this division, and share success stories of the Grand Rapids startups in partnership with the MSU Foundation.
  • Expanding Partnership with Start Garden: Build upon programs in place and partner on upcoming community events.

From a real estate perspective, Spartan Innovations in close collaboration with the MSU College of Human Medicine, will be opening the planned incubator in Douglas Meijer Medical Innovation Building (DMMIB) to the Grand Rapids market in Q2 2022. Spanning 18,000 square feet, this new incubator will provide support and programming for startups including space for Spartan Innovations.

The DMMIB building includes private industry and healthcare teams focused on disciplines like cancer research, neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders, artificial intelligence and medical device development. The new space will drive innovation in the public-private partnerships by encouraging relationships across tenants, and as a result, bring new discoveries to market.

As a final key milestone, Spartan Innovations recently hired new members to its team, including three new Grand Rapids-based professionals focused on healthcare innovation, BAF & Gateway and program management.

With new team members and counting, and with ongoing support from MEDC’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation initiative, Spartan Innovations and Start Garden is off to a solid start with its continued mission to develop and commercialize Grand Rapids’ unmatched, diverse technologies.

To reach the Spartan Innovations team, please contact Kyle McGregor, director of health innovations, Spartan Innovations Grand Rapids at

About Michigan State University Foundation

Established in 1973 as an independent non-profit, the Michigan State University Foundation is committed to the commercialization of cutting-edge technologies invented by MSU faculty, staff, and students. The MSU Foundation’s overarching goal is to support research, innovation, and entrepreneurship at the University. Additionally, the MSU Foundation operates Spartan Innovations, Red Cedar Ventures, Michigan Rise and incubator facilities to help drive economic development. More information on the organization’s notable achievements, services, leadership, and history are available at

About Start Garden

Start Garden is an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder based in Grand Rapids, MI. Since 2012, it has launched more than 800 aspiring entrepreneurs through innovative programs like the monthly 5x5 Night pitch competition and the annual Start Garden 100. Covered in The Atlantic and Forbes for its innovative approach to ensuring any aspiring entrepreneur from any neighborhood has the same opportunity, Start Garden places access to real resources as the cornerstone of the ecosystem. At the highest levels of financial support for the ecosystem are the DeVos Family Foundations, WK Kellogg Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Meijer DEI Initiatives and The Grand Rapids SmartZone, along with myriad other corporate sponsors and philanthropists.

About the Grand Rapids SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA)

The SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA) supports high-technology entrepreneurs and businesses. The SmartZone captures increased property tax dollars and reinvests that money back into the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Grand Rapids to provide incubator spaces and connections to support services to advance Entrepreneurship and Innovation.