Lessons from Grand Rapids: GRid70

TheMetropreneur.com visited regional neighbor Grand Rapids for the CEOS for Cities annual conference two weeks ago. While there, we checked in on three different entrepreneurial/incubator facilities and programs to find out how other cities are nurturing small business growth and innovation.

Most incubators are designed to bring groups of entrepreneurs into a shared facility where collaboration and collision can occur on a daily basis, sparking new ideas that can’t happen in a silo. GRid70 is out to prove that this environment can work for big businesses too.

Launched in 2011, GRid70 (which stands for Grand Rapids Innovation & Design) is a Downtown facility that houses creative teams from larger regional companies including Amway, Meijer, Wolverine Worldwide, Steelcase and others.

“Your average coworking facility is made up of independent entrepreneurs working side-by-side, whereas here we have teams from highly committed companies,” explains┬áKyle Los, Program Manager at GRid70. “It’s a little different, but the main idea is still the same. We’re trying to get collaboration to be effortless.”

The six-story building boasts food scientists working in a test kitchen on one floor, shoe designers on another floor, and medical innovation researchers on another. Community spaces provide opportunities for teams to intermingle, and programmed events by GRid70’s on-site management staff ensure that inter-company connections are made.

“We do lunch-and-learns so that tenants can share their innovations with each other,” says Los. “We recently had one that focused on robots. Steelcase is using robots in manufacturing that can stand next to human workers and interact with with visual recognition. They showed how they use the technology, and we began talking about how that could be used in the food industry for Meijer.”

Beyond internal innovations, Los says that GRid70 has assisted with talent attraction initiatives at these firms.

“We opened Downtown because none of the large companies existed here,” he says. “They’re all trying to attract designers from the east and west coasts, who really want to be a part of a vibrant urban community.”

GRid70 is owned and operated by Rockford Development Group, which is a part of Rockford Construction. The company operates several other facilities, including the MoDIV retail incubator located several blocks away.

For more information, visit www.grid70.com.

Photos by Walker Evans.