Calvin University launched a startup incubator to help students start their own businesses


GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Calvin University is helping students turn their entrepreneurial ideas into real businesses with a new startup incubator that will help connect students with the funding and mentors they need to get their companies off the ground.

The new Calvin Startup Garage was created by Calvin alumnus John Verley, who donated $500,000 to the university to launch the new business incubator, the university announced this week. Verley will volunteer to serve as Startup Garage Director and Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the next four years.

The incubator is only available to Calvin students for the first few years. But ultimately Verley wants to open Startup Garage to the wider West Michigan community to give people a chance to pitch their business ideas and get advice from Calvin faculty and alumni.

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“The goal is to create 100 Christ-centered companies in the next 10 years,” Verley said in a prepared statement.

Calvin School of Business Dean Jim Ludema said school leaders hope to bring other Calvin graduates and local business owners to the program for students interested in starting their own businesses.

“(Verley) meets regularly to help coach these students on their business ventures, and every Wednesday he brings in a different entrepreneur to talk to the students and listen to their ideas,” Ludema told MLive on Wednesday. September 14.

Ludema said he envisions the Calvin alumni community actively participating in Startup Garage and hopes other alumni will help build the program’s endowment to fund the business incubator for years to come.

Students participating in the program can apply for up to $2,000 in start-up funding for their businesses, Ludema said. The college helps students grow their companies by connecting them with investors.

The incubator will host pitch competitions and Shark Tanks where students can compete for seed funding for their businesses, and compete in local and regional competitions, according to a university news release.

The startup garage will be open not only to business students, but students from all majors at Calvin, Ludema said.

“The idea is that students can start and grow businesses that provide real value in the marketplace and also serve as agents of renewal in their communities,” he said.

A 2008 Calvin graduate and former youth pastor, Verley founded a user-friendly church management software company in 2014. He grew the business to serve 9,000 churches, then sold it in 2021. “I’m still shocked and blessed to a certain extent,” Verley said in a statement at Calvin, which did not specify the amount.

When John Verley sold their company, he and his wife, Keri Verley, wanted God to help them achieve their God-given success, which is how they came up with the idea for Startup Garage.

Calvin School leaders unveiled the new startup garage Wednesday at a dedication ceremony for the university’s new business school building, which officially opened last week after more than a year of construction.

Calvin President Wiebe Boyer’s business incubator is one of many new and exciting programs the university is launching at its new business school, launched in 2021 with a $22.25 million donation from an anonymous donor.

“This business school helps young people become the best leaders they can be in business, to think beyond the bottom line and what is the social and positive social impact they can have on society,” Wiebe said. Media at Wednesday’s ceremony.

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