Start Garden Launches $300k COVID-19 Support Fund

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(GRAND RAPIDS, MI) – The Start Garden COVID-19 Support Fund launched today. The organization offers $300,000 of its own money to help entrepreneurs impacted by COVID-19. The initiative, called The 100 Comeback, launched today by Start Garden with $300,000 of its own money. The intent is to provide grants to qualified entrepreneurs who can then use the money to support themselves and their families while they figure out how to make their comeback over the next 100 days.  

Start Garden stresses that The 100 Comeback is not a small business relief fund. Rather it’s a grant to support the personal needs of entrepreneurs to be safe, care for their families and prepare for their comeback.

All applications must be submitted to 100.startgarden.com during a 100-hour window from Tuesday, April 7 at 8 a.m. to Friday, April 11 at noon. The website provides information for individuals, organizations and businesses wishing to learn more or financially contribute to The 100 Comeback.

“Our community, our residents and entrepreneurship itself is in crisis right now,” said Jorge Gonzalez, Start Garden co-director. “While most federal and state relief is about a business and its employees, none address the entrepreneurs who didn’t have the time to grow their business to the point that their own families are supported for the next few months.”

New entrepreneurs often defer paying themselves in order to grow their business and they can’t lay themselves off. Almost all federal and state small business relief comes in the form of loans, and many new businesses can’t risk the additional leverage. 

As the pandemic continued to make headlines and creep its way into West Michigan, Start Garden leaders huddled to discuss how to respond to the reality that the impact on the entrepreneurs will last months, with the ripple effects lasting potentially years. Their biggest initiative, currently underway, was the annual Start Garden 100, which provides $300,000 in prize money to 100 new ideas. The 2020 version of the event was recently announced and submissions were well underway.

“It wouldn’t be right for Start Garden to award funds to new business ideas while a generation of entrepreneurs gets knocked down, not knowing if they can get back up,” said Start Garden co-director Paul Moore. “We exist to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem. To not do this would feel like we’re turning our backs on our risk-takers when they need us most.”

Start Garden officials hope the idea catches on in the business and philanthropic community and more funds can be added to the initial amount.

“West Michigan has a big heart, so we hope this idea sparks interest from those who can help out,” said Start Garden program director Laurie Supinski. “We’re making calls, but we also invite individuals and corporations to contact us.”

Current business owners who meet any of the following criteria can apply:

  • Have a demonstrated personal need.
  • Can verify their business was shut down, or severely impacted, as a result of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders.
  • Can verify the business has a loyal customer base.
  • Is located (or has a registered address) in Kent County.

Furthermore, additional allocations are available for minority- and women-owned businesses and tech companies that are connected with the Grand Rapids SmartZone.

“The funds we provide are not expected to be repaid, nor are we expecting any investment or favor from the person,” said Start Garden co-director Darel Ross II. “No entrepreneur should be worried about safety and shelter for their family, while carrying the burden to figure out how to reopen and rehire when the dust settles.”

“Although Start Garden has always been about getting new ideas and aspiring entrepreneurs off the ground, the reality is, entrepreneurship itself is going to be a disaster area if we don’t step in and support them during this difficult period,” added Supinki. “We need local and diverse entrepreneurs to stay strong for the spirit of entrepreneurship to stay alive.”

Anyone interested in contributing or learning more about The 100 Comeback Fund can contact Laurie Supinski, program director and Belen Salas, program assistant. More contact information is available at 100ideas@startgarden.com or 100.startgarden.com.

How do entrepreneurs apply?

  1. Entrepreneurs can register at 100.startgarden.com.
  2. Record and upload a 100 second video that answers 3 simple questions:
  1. What does your household need to get through the next few months? (You are not obligated to open your business right away. Instead, take the time needed to be safe, navigate this new business landscape and plan for the future.)
  2. Share a little about your business: How long has it been open? What do you do? Who are your customers?
  3. How has the COVID-19 shut down impacted you/your business?

Is there any minimum or maximum amount of money that an entrepreneur can be awarded?

Money is awarded on a case by case basis based on the needs of the entrepreneur; it’s not expected that each household will require the same amount to get through the next 100 days. 

What is the selection criteria?

Individual need is a big factor as is the progress the company has been able to make since starting. Startups come in all shapes and sizes. To reiterate, this is not a small business relief fund. These are grants to individual entrepreneurs, so they can be safe and adapt to this changing landscape as they prepare to reopen and rehire. 

Who is on the selection committee?

Start Garden is using the same process its uses for its Start Garden 100 initiative where selected entrepreneurs and entrepreneur support organizations weigh in and can factor heavily in the decisions. The final decision of funding, however, comes down to Start Garden organizers.

When will funds start to be distributed?

As soon as all the selections have been determined. Mid-April is the target date for funding distributions. All distributions will be a one-time, lump-sum amount.

Will all awardees find out at the same time if they won, or will this be a rolling process?

It’s expected that all awardees will be notified at the same time.

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