Michigan’s Largest Entrepreneur Competition Opens 2024 Registration

Grand Rapids-based accelerator Start Garden’s The 100 open competition for startups is back for a sixth year. The event is for anyone with a business idea or any business seeking to explore a new opportunity.
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Start Garden
The 100, Start Garden’s annual open competition for entrepreneurs is set to take place in Grand Rapids this September. // Photo courtesy of Start Garden

Grand Rapids-based accelerator Start Garden’s The 100 open competition for startups is back for a sixth year. The event is for anyone with a business idea or any business seeking to explore a new opportunity.

Start Garden is partnering with Northern Initiatives, a nonprofit Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) providing loans to Michigan small-business owners and entrepreneurs. The organization will provide each of the 10 finalists with the option of taking a pre-approved $20,000 loan through the competition.

The winners will be announced at Start Garden’s Demo Day event Wednesday, Sept. 18, at Calder Plaza in Grand Rapids.

“When we designed the Start Garden 100, our goal was to make it a genuine opportunity for anyone from any neighborhood in Michigan,” says Paul Moore, co-director at Start Garden. “It’s literally the easiest $1,000 an entrepreneur can get to play with an idea.”

CRP Powered by the Minority Business Development Agency, MEDC SmartZone, and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. are the financial muscle behind The 100.

In its first five years, The 100 helped remove barriers to entrepreneurship based on the belief that anyone from any neighborhood, regardless of resources, deserves a shot at launching a business idea.

Submissions are being accepted through July 8. Participants must be 14 years or older. Video submissions will not be shared with the public. Participants may upload as many ideas as they wish.

Here is how it works:

  • People record and submit a 100-second video explaining their idea to startgarden.com.
  • In July, 100 finalists will be chosen to receive $1,000 each — no strings attached — to prepare for Demo Day.
  • Finalists have two months to refine their ideas with support from Start Garden’s leadership team and partners.
  • 100 finalists present their submissions at the 2024 Demo Day competition Wednesday, Sept. 18.
  • At Demo Day, ten winners receive another $20,000 to help their business take off.
  • A separate high school category for students under 18 awards $1,000 to five finalists selected to compete and an additional $5,000 to a winner chosen on Demo Day.
  • Submitting your video puts you in the running for funding and community support to help your idea take off.

The 100 was created to be the most accessible business competition of its kind. While it is open to aspiring entrepreneurs throughout the community, Start Garden promoted the first competition through intense marketing in historically underrepresented neighborhoods. The efforts paid off, with about 53 percent of the finalists being women and 60 percent from minority groups each year since.

The 2023 Demo Day competition drew more than 2,000 visitors to Calder Plaza, the first time the event was held outside. The winning ideas included various products and services, including food and drink, online platforms and services, and manufacturers.

Darren Riley, a past top 10 winner and owner of JustAir, says, he’s always been “grateful for Start Garden’s support early” on in career.

“As you go through the founder’s ups and downs, you learn quickly that community is everything and people root for you,” says Riley. “To the next generation of 100 who will continue to raise the bar for our ecosystem – know that we are here rooting for you to win.”

There is more to The 100 than the money, says Moore. The lead-up to the competition and Demo Day is designed to expand an aspiring entrepreneur’s network, a vital component to getting any new business off the ground.

More than 2,000 visitors attended the 2023 event. 44 percent of competitors reported making more than eight new connections to help their startup, and more than 73 percent said they would “absolutely” encourage other would-be entrepreneurs to take a shot at the 100.

For more information, visit https://startgarden.com/.