SmartZone LDFA Partnership Report

Published on May 10, 2023


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., MAY 10, 2023 –– Grand Rapids SmartZone LDFA, in partnership with Spartan Innovations and Start Garden, reported today strong results in its continued momentum for Michigan’s high-tech/high-growth startup community at its quarterly board meeting.

From January 2023 thru March 2023 of the collaboration, Spartan Innovations and Start Garden programs and initiatives have resulted in the following:

New Companies Created: The collaboration helped facilitate the creation of 19 new companies, seven of which are owned by underrepresented founders.

Funds Raised: During the reporting period, the Grand Rapids SmartZone, Spartan Innovations and Start Garden-assisted companies have raised over $22 million in outside funding.

Venture Growth & Expansion: The collaboration supported 41 expanding businesses, serving a total of 72 companies through their SmartZone support services.

Real Estate: 30 total tenant spaces were occupied, between Spartan Innovations’ The Bridge and Start Garden’s 40 Pearl incubator spaces.

Underrepresented Companies: Over $85,000 went toward direct funding for underrepresented founders. Of the total 72 businesses served, 28 were owned by underrepresented founders (38%).

“These results show the outcomes of our SmartZone operating partners, in alignment with our goals and objectives,” said Jeremiah Gracia, Director of Economic Development for the City of Grand Rapids. “Collaboration is key and our continued work with Spartan Innovations and Start Garden continues to build momentum and provide meaningful outcomes.”

One company that exemplifies the Grand Rapids SmartZone’s collaboration is Vetr Health, a veterinary tech practice committed to providing accessible, affordable, and stress-free veterinary care from the comfort of the pet owner’s home. They offer in-home veterinary services including routine exams, vaccines, wellness testing, and telemedicine for less than a traditional veterinary clinic.

Since launching in February 2023, the company has worked closely with the Grand Rapids SmartZone, receiving support and funding from Spartan Innovations and Start Garden through various programs and initiatives.

“The support we received from the Grand Rapids SmartZone network has transcended us to a level of potential growth that I didn’t know was possible,” said Rachel Berkal, Co-founder of Vetr Health. “They’re willing to do whatever it takes, from making key connections to fundraising opportunities, so we can achieve the exponential growth we’re striving for. It’s great to know that someone else believes in us, too.”

To support their ambitions growth plans, Vetr Health has recently moved into The Bridge, a new incubator space facilitated by Spartan Innovations located at The Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building. In partnership with Rockford Construction, the space opened in January 2023 and welcomed seven tenants. Since its ribbon cutting, The Bridge has been an epicenter of numerous programs, including accelerator and pre-accelerator programming, networking events, trainings, and informational sessions to connect with local resources to grow your startup.

“With the opening of The Bridge, we have shown that we can link together the support services available in Grand Rapids, ensuring entrepreneurs have access at all stages of their journey,” said Kyle McGregor, PhD, Director of Health Innovations at Spartan Innovations, a subsidiary of the Michigan State University Research Foundation. “There’s a culture forming here. If you want to build a business in Grand Rapids, The Bridge is the place to do it.”

Similar to Spartan Innovations, Start Garden’s outcomes are strong, resulting in several successful meetups, tours, lectures, workshops, and 5x5 events. Its recent partnership with Acrisure, a financial technology and insurance company headquartered in Grand Rapids now provides free legal services to the Start Garden 100 winners, with one being Vetr Health. From a real estate perspective, Start Garden’s 40 Pearl location currently incubates 23 startups, with 40% owned by People of Color.

“It’s exciting to see a continued increase in the number of founders choosing to build their businesses in Grand Rapids,” said Paul Moore, Director at Start Garden. “We are committed to ensuring they have the support they need to successfully grow.”

In March, the SmartZone network also participated in the annual South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas. SmartZone supported companies, Kozi, Farmish, JustAir and Opnr, attended the conference in collaboration with Midwest House. The event allowed the team to connect and network with like-minded companies, attend informative sessions, and engage in thought-provoking discussions with industry leaders and entrepreneurs from across the globe. The event left the network partners inspired and with new contacts to continue discussions about growing the Grand Rapids tech community.

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.

About Michigan State University Foundation

The Michigan State University Research Foundation (MSU Research Foundation) was established in 1973 as an independent nonprofit committed to the commercialization of cutting-edge technologies invented by MSU faculty, staff, and students. Today, the MSU Research Foundation is focused on enhancing research, encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship, and facilitating economic growth at MSU and across the state through its subsidiary organizations—Spartan Innovations, Red Cedar Ventures, and Michigan Rise—and select real estate holdings. 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.

Download the full Spartan Innovations and Start Garden report here(PDF, 2MB).