A venture capital fund backed by the DeVos family has invested $2.3 million dollars in start-up companies in the past year. The money went to 106 different ideas or projects.
The fund is called Start Garden. It was created nearly a year ago by Amway co-founder Richard DeVos’ grandson Rick DeVos, who’s also an entrepreneur (and founder of ArtPrize). He gave an update on the fund this morning.
“All of my expectations have been exceeded for year one and I’m very bullish about the investments we’ve made,” DeVos told an invite-only crowd in the downtown storefront that’s home to Start Garden.
“I’m surprised by the amount of start-ups that have walked through our doors,” DeVos said. He says the vast majority of funded projects came from people within a three-hour drive of Grand Rapids.
DeVos considers Start Garden a three-year-long experiment. One of the goals is to build the fund’s portfolio. Within three years he wants to own a percentage of around a dozen companies “that are performing extremely well and are showing signs of growing exponentially in value.”
He says that would be evidence that the experiment is working. If that happens, DeVos says Start Garden could potentially keep going beyond the three years with another fund.
The second goal is more unique for a venture capital fund, DeVos said. He wants to change the region’s culture so people are less reliant on big companies to create jobs and the region becomes more friendly to entrepreneurs.
“When we say we want a place that’s really friendly to entrepreneurs, we take that literally. This space at the corner of Louis and Ionia is home to a culture. We want the culture to spread beyond these walls into the rest of the region,” DeVos said.
The space hosts networking events, classes, lunches with business leaders, and update nights—where people behind the projects that get some money try to prove their idea should get more money.
“Start Garden is a platform to help us change our behavior. It encourages people to be aggressive, to stop dreaming and start tinkering,” DeVos said. “You work to change culture because you believe that we won’t have a region full of entrepreneurs generating new value and creating new business without this change.”