The West Coast of Michigan is a haven for industrial designers and is home to the world’s most iconic furniture manufacturers: Steelcase and Herman Miller. That’s because Michigan builds things. Soon there will be a new accelerator that will help young companies do just that.
The accelerator program, called Seamless, targets early-stage hardware companies and gives them access to capital and, more importantly, experience in the field. Grand Rapid’s early-stage, venture capital fund Start Garden is behind the program and has enlisted the help of the region’s biggest companies.
Steelcase, Amway, Meijer, Faurecia, Spectrum Health and Priority Health are all on board and set to give participating startups access to their talent and personnel. From industrial design to supply-chain management to retail, these six companies offer a unique set of resources.
“Seamless takes advantage of an interesting cluster of companies in West Michigan,” said Rick DeVos, CEO of Start Garden and grandson of Amway founder Richard DeVos. “We’re trying to create an opportunity [for the sponsoring companies] to interact with the startup world in a broader way by bringing them together. It’s our hope cool stuff will emerge.”
“Steelcase’s strategy starts with insights,” Steelcase CEO Jim Keane said. “Innovation is really crucial for our business model. We’re trying to create environments that create innovations. No matter how many great people we have, we don’t have a monopoly on great ideas.”
Steelcase has a long history of collaboration, he said, pointing to the company’s work with Frank Lloyd Wright in 1937 that resulted in the iconic workstation. Steelcase later restored two of Wright’s buildings, including his first commissioned project, which happens to be in Michigan. The furniture company will provide the workstations for the co-working space. Keane explained that each of the participating companies has different commitments to the program. “Our people will work [in the co-working space] side-by-side day-in and day-out,” he said.
After talking to several partners involved in the project, it’s clear many of the details are still being finalized. The program was just an idea in the fall of 2014. Seamless will provide six to ten selected startups with $20,000 in seed funding and a co-working space. The idea of providing housing is still being thrown around.
More industrial designers live and work in Michigan than any other state in the country. There’s a reason for that. The region has a long history of building and designing things. This accelerator hopes to build upon that tradition by injecting a fresh dose of new ideas that only startups can provide.