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A new take on Midwest startup  investment

Updated: July 17, 2012 12:48PM

A Grand Rapids, Mich.-based program that “seeds” would-be entrepreneurs’ good ideas with $5,000 investments aims to partner with Chicago’s fast-growing technology startup companies, investors, incubators and accelerators to transform “Rust Belt” perceptions about the Midwest.

The venture, Start Garden (, boasts a $15 million kitty funded by the co-founding family of Amway and aims to launch more than 100 new business ideas every year. Start Garden is receiving an average of 75 idea submissions each week from throughout the country.

Rick DeVos, the 30-year-old grandson of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, visited Chicago’s 1871 technology startup center at the Merchandise Mart on Friday to see how startups work corroboratively in shared space and to meet seed and venture-capital funders.

“We’ve heard the word ‘ecosystem’ a lot, and it’s clear that a complex web of relationships and interactions among inventors, vendors, suppliers, backers and other entrepreneurs is the key to growing startup ideas,” said DeVos.

Start Garden began in late April granting the $5,000 “option contracts” to two would-be entrepreneurs each week who pitch the best ideas for new businesses. A Start Garden team chooses one winner and a public vote picks the second.

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