... and a fast river runs through it: It's Grand Rapids!
- We make a stop in Grand Rapids, MI and check out its culture of entrepreneurship and the accomplishments that reflect on the city’s growing startup ecosystem.
- An indoor, vertical, robot-driven farm in Pittsburgh? Read all about it!
- The University of Kentucky is leading the charge on energy with a gathering of 150 energy experts from across the private and public sector. Get it?
- Revolution's Rise of the Rest fund closes second fund with $150 in capital.
- Name that Flyover City!
October 30, 2019
WHEELS DOWN: GRAND RAPIDS
Grand Rapids: Building a culture of entrepreneurship
Rachel Kramer [CC BY 2.0]
In 2012, seed accelerator Start Garden launched in Grand Rapids, MI, with a $15 million fund and the goal of building “a culture of entrepreneurship.” Its timeline of accomplishments since then reflects the vigorous growth of the Grand Rapids startup ecosystem, which has seen a proliferation of incubators, co-working environments, maker spaces, funding, and programs designed to help founders develop sustainable businesses.
Here are just a few highlights:
- The city’s SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority, which partners with Start Garden, supports high-tech entrepreneurs and businesses.
- The Right Place is a nonprofit economic development company that offers business growth assistance through a variety of services, from manufacturing training to site location to accessing state and local resources.
- Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW), which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, provides support for female entrepreneurs who are launching or growing their business.
- Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) is working to “foster an economy that creates prosperity and supports the revitalization of predominantly Black neighborhoods.”
- The Starting Block is a nonprofit that offers commercial kitchens, storage facilities, office space, and technical advice to entrepreneurs who are starting or building a food business.
- The Grand Rapids Inventors Network (GRIN) provides resources and networking opportunities to help members develop their creative ideas.
Grand Rapids attractions and activities
A vibrant startup ecosystem always seems to coincide with a vibrant cultural landscape, and Grand Rapids is no exception. GR dwellers and visitors can enjoy the city’s museums (African American Museum & Archives, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum), theaters (Broadway Grand Rapids, Civic Theatre, Actor’s Theatre), galleries (Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), Grand Rapids Art Museum), music and performance venues (DeVos Performance Hall, River City Improv), and public art, among tons of other offerings. Grand Rapids is also the home of ArtPrize an art competition and festival that is the largest public art competition in the world.
Once folks have worked up an appetite from all those uplifting excursions, they can choose from myriad brewpubs and restaurants to cap off the day.
Let’s start with beer.
Grand Rapids has been anointed Beer City USA in national polls, and USA Today readers named it Best Beer Town and Best Beer Scene. Experience Grand Rapids says the region boasts more than 80 breweries. Among them, Brewery Vivant owns the distinction of being the first LEED certified microbrewery in the country—and hey, it’s located in a historical funeral home. (Haunted hops?)
And while many of the breweries offer exceptional cuisine, there are also plenty of restaurants to check out.
Noted travel author Jen Ruiz characterized Grand Rapids as “a foodie’s dream” and shared her restaurant picks based on category. You can see her blog post for the full list, but here’s a sample. MudPenny, for breakfast/brunch; Downtown Market, for lunch; The Sovengard, for dinner; MoKAYA, for dessert.
And for the tikes...
Many of the attractions mentioned so far are geared toward adults, but let’s not forget the kids. Grand Rapids offers a long list of family-friendly activities and attractions, like the John Ball Zoo and the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. Oh, and the West Michigan Donut Trail. (Does that sound like a sugar-pocalypse waiting to happen?)
Grand Rapids data from the flight deck
- Population (MSA): 1,059,113
- Population (City Limits): 200,217
- Female: 51.1%
- Male: 48.9%
- Median home value: $163,400
- Median rent price: $1,350
- Median salary: $48,481
- Cost of living: 5% below the national average
- Unemployment rate: 3.5%
Data Sources: US Census Bureau; Zillow.com
Robots toil in indoor Rust Belt farm
A historic steel mill town may seem like an unlikely place to establish a farm, but startup Fifth Season is doing just that. However, this is no ordinary farm. It’s going to be (wait for it) an indoor, vertical, robot-driven farm.
Fifth Season’s roots (sorry) trace back to a farm it incubated at Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. The company then spent the next two years developing a couple of R&D vertical farms. Now it’s time to go big.
The new farm, which is expected to open in early 2020, is located in Braddock, just outside Pittsburgh. The farm is housed in a solar-powered 60,000-square-foot facility with a 25,000-square-foot grow area. And 40 or so robots.
Thanks to automated systems and hard-working robots, the farm is cost competitive with traditional farming (something most vertical farms can’t claim). It also requires far less water, eliminates the need for pesticides, and avoids issues like E. coli contamination. And because the produce is grown close to end markets, it arrives fresher, without the downsides of long-distance trucking.
During its first year, Fifth Season says it will grow half a million pounds of lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, and herbs. Prices will be in the same ballpark as organically grown produce, which should allow a payback period of less than two years.
UK Center leading the charge on energy
The University of Kentucky's Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) co-hosted the Envision Forum, a gathering of 150 energy experts from across the public and private sphere to discuss the complex energy challenges and needs that lie ahead for the country. Panel discussions included ever-present topics like energy's impact on climate and the environment, the need for ongoing infrastructure development, and transmission challenges, as well as less obvious issues like the ripple effect of the nation's opioid crisis and how it threatens the energy workforce.
Speaking at the conference, UK President Eli Capilouto said, “It gives me hope to stand here before bright minds, fearless leaders and innovative trailblazers who are dedicated to confronting the most challenging issues of our time, like navigating our changing energy landscape and policies, and considering climate, criminal justice and water-related issues.”
Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), noted Kentucky's position at the “epicenter” of these 21st century energy challenges and outlined the broader goals for the industry in his opening remarks—“finding real and meaningful solutions.”
Roughly 20 graduate students and upwards of 50 undergraduates work on CAER-related energy projects each year, gaining invaluable, firsthand experience in the field of energy research. Capilouto added, “We are not just thinking about solutions, we are making them... We are creating what is wildly possible.”
Second Rise of the Rest fund closes with $150 million
Revolution, the investment firm co-founder 14 years ago by AOL founder Steve Case, has closed its second Rise of the Rest seed fund with $150 million in capital commitments.
Rise of the Rest funds startups in historically underserved areas to foster innovation in cities other than those on the coast.
According to Forbes, some of the investors this time around include those who invested in the first fund, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, hedge fund manager Ray Dalio, and VCs Jim Breyer and John Doerr.
New investors include Sara Blakely of Spanx, Under Armour co-founder Kevin Plank, former Tennessee governor Bill Haslam, and Apollo Global Management co-founder Joshua Harris.
The first fund was run by Case and J.D. Vance, author of the book Hillbilly Elegy. Vance is stepping back on the second fund and longtime Revolution investor David Hall will manage it.
It's ... Name that Flyover city!
Useless information that is strangely fascinating.
And now, the questions:
- Otis Redding (“Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”) was killed when his plane crashed on the way to a concert in this city.
- This city was where the construction of the first water filtration plant in the world happened.
- The honeycrisp apple was invented at a university in this city.
Click here for today's answers
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