When I first conceived of a business startup panel for GRAPE, a few names came to mind. The first person I thought of was Amanda Chocko, Community Relations at Start Garden (a VC fund). If you’re involved with business startups in Grand Rapids and haven’t heard of Amanda you might need to get out more. In my mind, Amanda is the face of Start Garden. However, she has also worked for Lakeshore Advantage and Momentum (a VC Fund) – two other very important organizations for small business to be aware of in Holland. I’m grateful she accepted.
The next person I thought of was Mike Dokter.  I know Mike as an enterprising young man who values honesty and integrity. But what brought my attention to him was the company he co-founded, Navigator. Originally known as The Launch Collective, the company consists of “independent creatives and professionals collaborating to help clients launch great ideas.” They specialize in helping companies get off the group. That means reviewing your business plan, developing a marketing strategy.  and a formulating growth strategy.

The greatest challenge business startups face is often financing.  To that end, an acquaintance of mine (Diane Aamoth) graciously volunteered to connect me with Grand Angel‘s co-founder Craig Hall.   On LinkedIn, Craig describes himself as “Serial Entrepreneur, Now Mentor and Angel Investor”. He views his other company Less Shore Enterprises as a venture launching pad. He notes in this article that he  has “personally launched eight companies and a couple of not-for-profits through that vehicle.”

Another person that was suggested I get into contact with was Jeff Royce, Director of GRCurrent. GR Current “provides business incubation and acceleration services to business start-ups in emerging technologies – software, IT, medical devices, life sciences, etc… and helping them succeed in the marketplace.”   Jeff describes his passion as “stabilizing, turning around and growing companies.”  Among his many accomplishments, he has “developed more than $300M worth of real estate projects….and  significantly increased corporate sales of a previously under performing division at a medical equipment manufacturing company.”

Finally, I wanted to have an entrepreneur to talk about her own struggles and growth. Of course, there are plenty of entrepreneurs one can find in this region. In viewing those who have had some interaction with GRAPE, I came across Deborah Tacoma‘s profile. Deborah invented the FreedomWand, “a personal hygiene device that helps those with limited range of motion”, which was profiled in this Grand Rapids Press article. She currently partners with new inventors who “have like-minded products and sales channels that need help entering the market place.”

The event takes place at The WareHaus in Holland. So if you can attend on Tuesday Jan 14 (5:30-8:30pm), I hope you will. Social networking occurs before and after the event.   Reserve tickets here.