Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Spotlight: Grand Rapids, MI

Grand Rapids

The second largest city in Michigan has the honor of being known as the nation’s second-best city to start a small business.

Grand Rapids, MI, the county seat of Michigan’s Kent County, is the state’s second-largest city. A 2018 study done by Lending Tree ranked Grand Rapids as the nation’s second-best city to start a small business, while it finished fifth overall in WalletHub’s 2017 rankings. Additionally, another 2017 WalletHub list ranked Grand Rapids as the fourth-best city in the country to start a career, finishing third in the “Professional Opportunities” category.

Based on these rankings, FundingSage has reviewed the resources that make up Grand Rapids’ entrepreneurial ecosystem:

Entrepreneurial Meetups:

GRAPE is a large non-profit group dedicated to creating a network of professionals and helping to educate and inspire them.

Grand Rapids Business Referral is a networking group that aims to help entrepreneurs and professionals network in a relaxed atmosphere.

Startup West Michigan is a large community of entrepreneurs, investors, and other professionals in the Western Michigan area.

Women in Connection is a networking group to support powerful women in business and entrepreneurship and help them succeed.

A more general group for women in business, Women in Working in GR is a networking community for women to make connections and build referral lists.


Regular Entrepreneurial Events:

Michigan Women’s Foundation hosts regular Entrepreneur YOU conferences to support and educate women interested in entrepreneurship across the state, including one in Grand Rapids.

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce hosts a number of annual events celebrating and supporting small business and entrepreneurship in the area.

Grand Rapids plays host to one of the many nationwide TechStars Startup Weekend events annually.

Cascade Engineering hosts an annual conference celebrating and supporting diversity and inclusion in the professional world in West Michigan.


Startup Competitions:

5×5 nights are held around West Michigan and pit five entrepreneurs against one another to give five minutes pitches and compete for $5,000.

In 100 Ideas, entrepreneurs submit 100-second pitches to compete for $1,000 as well as the opportunity to compete for another $20,000.

Students at Grand Valley State University compete for cash prizes by presenting a 90-second elevator pitch to a team of West Michigan judges.

Students at a number of universities across West Michigan can compete for cash prizes as well as access to resources and mentorship through the MWest Challenge.


Co-working Spaces:

Blue35 offers co-working space and private offices, with the second floor available for build-out to tenants on more traditional leases.

A co-working space specifically designed for entrepreneurs in the construction, real estate, and design industries, Blueprint Collaborative offers 24/7 access to members.

In addition to providing co-working space, The Factory offers a number of “co-learning” opportunities and hosts regular events.

GR coLab is a co-working space specifically designed to support entrepreneurship and design, offering private office space as well as the more traditional co-working setup.

Spacebar offers three membership levels, all of which include free parking, free coffee, and access to all community events.

Worklab offers a variety of membership plans and a number of resources, including a café and an onsite gym.


Maker spaces:

The Geek Group is a massive space that offers access to equipment and resources and aims to help support and educate the community as a whole.

GR Makers offers an 8,500-square foot workspace with a wide variety of tools to help support entrepreneurship, personal expression, and education.

Just down the road in Grand Haven, MI, Studio JSD is a maker space that offers metalsmithing classes and workspace to jewelry makers.



GROW is an organization dedicated to helping women expand their businesses or start a new one.

Incubator Kitchen is an open, inclusive space for food-based startups to find space to work as well as helpful resources and people.

With 11 centers across the state and the lead center in Grand Rapids, the Michigan SBDC offers a number of resources to help support entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Shops @ MoDiv is a retail incubator, providing space and support to retail-based start-ups as well as established retailers.



Seamless IoT is a 12-week program offering promising Internet of Things startups support and access to valuable resources.

Entrepreneurs can become members of Start Garden and get connected to resources and people that will help their startups grow and succeed.



For students interested in entrepreneurship, Calvin College offers an entrepreneurship concentration in their business major.

The Entrepreneurial Center at Davenport University is home to a variety of resources designed to help support students in entrepreneurship.

In addition to an entrepreneurship certificate, Grand Rapids Community College hosts workshops to help educate and support entrepreneurial-minded students.

Grand Valley State University offers a number of entrepreneurial resources to students as well as an entrepreneurship major.


Angel Groups/VCs:

Blackford Capital is a private equity investment firm that acquires and manages businesses in the low-tech manufacturing, distribution, and business services industries.

Established in 1989, Charter Capital Partners is an investment firm that works with middle market companies across multiple industries.

Comprised of an angel network as well as a venture fund, Grand Angels invests in early-stage companies in the Michigan region.

Grand Ventures invests in promising early-stage technology companies either located in or with strong roots in the Midwest United States.

Based down the road in Muskegon, Muskegon Angels aims to invest in advanced manufacturing, food processing, and technology companies in the area.


Entrepreneurial Newsletter Coverage:

The Grand Rapids Business Journal offers several newsletters focusing on different aspects of the business scene in Grand Rapids.

MiBiz covers business news in West Michigan and offers several newsletters to keep subscribers up-to-date.

MLive, which covers news around the state of Michigan, offers a variety of newsletters, including region-specific ones and one on Michigan business as a whole.

TechStars offers a Grand Rapids Startup Digest, which keeps subscribers up-to-date on major entrepreneurial events happening in the Grand Rapids area.

Are you familiar with entrepreneurial ecosystem infrastructure in Grand Rapids not included in the article above?  If so, let us know via a comment below, and we will add it to the article. 

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Quinn Pilkey

Quinn is a journalism major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He also serves as a freelance author for Hashtag Basketball where he writes about the NBA's Charlotte Hornets and at FundingSage where he researches and writes about entrepreneurial ecosystems.