Skip to content

Start Garden: Making Money from other people’s ideas

May 2, 2012

It has been a week since the announcement from Rick DeVos of his latest endeavor known as Start Garden.

As has been the case with other projects such as 5×5 and ArtPrize, this new project has received plenty of media coverage, all with significant fanfare.

The basic idea is that with $15 million of the DeVos Family money, people will submit proposals for business ventures that DeVos and his team will look at and decide which ones deserve to get funded. Of course, there is a mechanism where the public can vote on some of the proposals, but in the end “voting” in this format will generally mean people who are supportive of such projects and those who have an awareness of it. It would be safe to assume that most of those “voting” for projects submitted to Start Garden will be people who fall into the creative class category…..the ones who who have been involved in Rick DeVos’s other projects.

DeVos made his announcement last week at a press conference held at one of the many family owned properties in Grand Rapids, the JW Marriott Hotel. DeVos is quoted in MiBiz as saying, “It’s unlike any fund in the world. It involves hundreds of ideas, which can come from anywhere and from anyone.” But any serious observer (which should include journalists) would ask the question of how this project is different than any other in the world?

Other wealthy families have a history of investing in projects, so that couldn’t be what makes it different. In fact, what the Start Garden Project is doing is somewhat similar to what banks and other financial institutions do, they lend money to projects they think are viable. The difference here is that the DeVos family and the Start Garden Team will be making those decisions, which gives them even more leverage to determine the future of Grand Rapids. Gaining more leverage in determining the future of this community has been the goal of the DeVos family ever since Rich DeVos began acquiring billions through the Amway business.

In addition to increasing the family’s influence on the economic, social and political future of Grand Rapids, the Start Garden Project is just another mechanism for the DeVos family to make money off the ideas and hard work of others. If one reads the Start Garden rules page it is clear that those who run Start Garden get to have the right to make money off of ideas that are profitable. The investment agreement section states clearly, “Start Garden does not take ownership in intellectual property of your idea at the $5,000 level. It contains options so we remain investors if your idea becomes a successful business.

The emphasis on Start Garden’s ability to benefit from profitable ventures is restated again on a different page. “We recognize this investment agreement is unusual. It’s our prototype of an agreement that has as few strings attached as possible, but still maintains an investor relationship if your idea becomes a huge success.”

At a recent talk Rick DeVos commented that such criticism of his projects are nothing more than conspiracy theories about his family’s business. Start Garden is not a conspiracy, but it is another way for the DeVos family to make money while having more influence in the future of Grand Rapids.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeff Smith permalink
    May 3, 2012 2:14 am

    This post is painful. The only possible justification is that its contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. The author implicitly states that other journalists have not properly understood how start garden differs from a bank, then proceeds to entirely misunderstand or intentionally misstate start gardens standing in relation to other financial institutions. Jeff Smith has no concept of how to obtain a small business loan because no financial institution will provide $5000 without a viable business plan, no collateral and no personal guarantee.

    Jeff should go back to defacing other peoples graffiti to generate clicks for his blog because clearly he has no legitimate offerings of his own.

    • Joshua Sadowski permalink
      May 3, 2012 4:04 am

      For accusing someone of being a contrarian you have an awful lot of criticisms with few ideas of your own, (something about a pot and a kettle comes to mind). The main point of the article is clearly that the Devos family has too much control over Grand Rapids and that the press is never critical of anything they do, regardless of consequence, (nothing about obtaining small business loans), what say you to that?
      Mind you, commenter so bold as to remain anonymous, that GRIID has consistently served as break from the stream of propaganda that is MLive and the GR Press. So what they’re doing here is kind of their thing and you’re basically pissing on an electric fence by criticizing that on their site.
      Additionally, I find your accusation about the Ford graffiti out of line. What evidence do you have that the author of GRIID had anything to do with that act? Ford’s record is well documented outside of this site. And why in hell would someone deface a popular piece of art and then post that on their own blog within days, if not hours? Any idiot knows that when you commit an illegal/unpopular act, you don’t blog about it before and after the fact. Believe it or not, Jeff is not the only person in town that doesn’t worship Ford, Devos, VanAndle… And he’s not stupid enough to publish his own illegal actions on the internet.
      Now you better accuse me of being the “defacer” and not address any of the concerns which have been raised, because the power elite have always done well by the people, right?

      • Jeff Smith permalink
        May 3, 2012 5:34 am

        Joshua my criticism is simple: Jeff says that any serious observer would ask how this project is “different” then proceeds to show both a total lack of understanding of how start garden provides the initial investment with no strings attached and how that is entirely different from what “banks and other financial institutions do.” This baseless criticism is embarrassing for a site that purports to offer an angle that is somehow better than the stream of “propaganda” that comes from the GR Press or MLive.

        I would be happy to retract my statement if Jeff can hatch an idea, go to a bank to get a loan with no collateral or business plan. All he simply needs to do is tell the lender that his idea was endorsed by people on the internet. When this happens he will clearly have proven Devos wrong and Start Garden is no different than existing financial institutions.

        Instead of providing any actual research Jeff throws up a post feeding people that want to complain about something regardless of how legitimate their criticism is. Being contrarian just because your previously established position is that Rick has too much influence is just as bad if not worse than the “propaganda” Jeff wishes to counterbalance. At least MLive isn’t self righteous about their bias.

        Regarding the graffiti – it is possible that Jeff stumbled across the “war criminal” scrawl just hours after it went up and immediately posted about it. Or more likely GRIID was involved in some way. If you want to believe in unlikely happenstance then more power too you but don’t expect the argument “he is not stupid enough to publish his own illegal actions on the internet” to hold water with anyone who looks at the sequence of events objectively.

  2. Christian permalink
    May 3, 2012 1:56 pm

    “But any serious observer (which should include journalists) would ask the question of how this project is different than any other in the world?”

    Journalists did indeed ask that question, and the answer was plainly given: The difference is in the public aspect of funding decisions. The closest analogue is probably Kickstarter.

    “Gaining more leverage in determining the future of this community has been the goal of the DeVos family ever since Rich DeVos began acquiring billions through the Amway business.”

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc. By nature of its wealth, the DeVos family exerts considerable leverage in this community — but that’s entirely different from saying that gaining more leverage “has been [their] goal.” I realize this goes powerfully against GRIID’s deeply-held belief that absolute power and money corrupt absolutely, but what imagination is there in the lazy libel of labeling them a cabal?

    Start Garden is not inherently corrupt by virtue of its origin; this is self-evident to most rational people. It’s another business venture by a family with a history of successful business ventures, regardless of your opinion on their ethics or the general ethics of capitalism writ large.

    Smith seemingly acknowledges this, yet still resorts to this tautology: “[…] the Start Garden Project is just another mechanism for the DeVos family to make money off the ideas and hard work of others.” What is business, if not to “make money off the ideas and hard work of others”? I’m not aware that Start Garden has been presented as anything other than a venture capital fund.

    Speaking of benefitting from other people’s hard work, though, I note the two images used in this article are both copyrighted, and no attribution is given.

  3. Joshua Sadowski permalink
    May 3, 2012 10:24 pm

    I really don’t have the time or energy to continue to address every argument of apologists for the power elite. The point is that this article is clearly coming from a standpoint, assumption, that the medias job is to keep power in check and that what’s good for business (read: DeVos) is not always (if ever) good for the rest of us (even if they tell us so).

    • May 4, 2012 1:44 am

      Joshua I am proud that you are no longer wasting your energy on a failing argument. Now if you and Jeff would only apply that concept the entire blog you will really be on to something.

      You have reaffirmed my belief that this article is simply contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. It is not the news medias job to keep power in check (or push any agenda), it is the medias job to accurately reflect reality. This is a point that Jeff should take to heart in his postings as his points about Start Gardens similarity to existing financial institutions are literally inaccurate.

      • Joshua Sadowski permalink
        May 4, 2012 5:16 am

        “It is not the news medias job to keep power in check”. That is the most ignorant thing I have ever read. You have just completely invalidated all your statements while simultaneously illuminating you spectatular lack of perspective. A critical media is crucial to a functioning democracy, Jefferson was one of the first to point this out in the states, and the US (ironically) is one of the few countries that has managed to systematically teach its people otherwise.
        You should probably be getting your news from ET.

  4. May 4, 2012 6:41 pm

    Joshua by your logic if Rick Devos were to provide a $100,000 no strings attached grant to GRIID MLive would have to criticize that decision simply because that would be keeping Devos power in check. Also Jeff himself would need to decline the grant because he is media and that would be the ultimate manifestation of keeping power in check.

    • Bill Burton permalink
      May 4, 2012 7:44 pm

      “if Rick Devos were to provide a $100,000 no strings attached grant to GRIID MLive would have to criticize that decision simply because that would be keeping Devos power in check.”

      That sounds accurate. News media should investigate the flow of money and the influence of power. When media is in bed with power it’s doing a disservice to people.

      Your scenario should look like this:
      DeVos —>$ -> GRIID —> content influenced by financial backers -> news readers
      MLive —->? -> DeVos+$+GRIID+Content —> analysis/critique/information ->news readers

      “Jeff himself would need to decline the grant because he is media and that would be the ultimate manifestation of keeping power in check”

      This sounds accurate too. News providers should reveal their sponsors (advertisers, underwriters, etc.) prominently (cf. The Rapidian). Ideally news media wouldn’t have to rely on advertisers and their influence but major news outlets follow a capitalist, profit-driven model and as we’ve seen in the past decade newsprint publishers increasingly rely on fluffier, eye-catching, ad-dollar-getting news and investigative departments are getting axed.

      GRIID is a service that offers a more journalistic, critical perspective than organizations like the Grand Rapids Press and WOODTV, who rarely do more than repeat what those they’re interviewing say. That’s more work that won’t yield profitable results. News gathering and reporting isn’t inherently profitable.

      My impression is that there have been far more polls and shorter articles since the Grand Rapids Press has merged with MLive. Shorter articles means less context, analysis and accurate reporting. Instead of doing research MLive writers are now supposed to act as moderators of the comments on their stories. The more clicks and comments the better.

      As Christian said:
      “What is business, if not to “make money off the ideas and hard work of others”?”

      Business isn’t everything. Community and social institutions enrich lives more than growth-demanding, exploitative “businesses”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 127 other followers

%d bloggers like this: