Seamless Accelerator to Nurture Next Generation of Connected Devices

Rick DeVos, Amway heir and founder of ArtPrize and Start Garden, is backing a new venture in Grand Rapids, MI: an Internet of Things accelerator.

A member of the Techstars Global Accelerator Network, the Seamless Accelerator has forged partnerships with Michigan-based corporations that mostly manufacture or design things, DeVos said. Companies participating as partners in the Seamless coalition, as he calls it, include Steelcase, Amway, Meijer, Faurecia, Spectrum Health, and Priority Health.

The Seamless Accelerator, which began accepting applications for its fall session last Friday, will be headquartered inside Start Garden’s new 15,000-square-foot space inside the Michigan Trust Building downtown. DeVos said the accelerator will operate for a year, and then backers will evaluate its success and decide whether to keep going.

Anybody with Internet access can make and launch an app, DeVos said, but industrial design and manufacturing require a different skill set—one that happens to flourish in West Michigan, he added. “We still make things here, and there’s a lot of value in that,” he said.

The Seamless Accelerator will host 10 companies twice a year. DeVos said the accelerator will offer financial support in the form of $25,000 in convertible notes and will “generally” get 6 percent equity in exchange. Seamless is hoping to attract international startups working on IoT innovations.

“The promise of the Internet of Things is that we’ve interacted with environments like home or office, and now we’re making them smart,” said Seamless director Mike Morin, underscoring why companies like Steelcase, which manufactures office interiors, or Faurecia, the world’s largest supplier of automotive interiors, would be interested in supporting an IoT incubator. “People have to be able to move between these environments seamlessly, and that’s the reason we chose the name.”

Though DeVos said the accelerator isn’t simply an acquisition pipeline for Seamless’s enterprise partners, he did point out that the idea is offer them collaborative, easy access to emerging technologies. (The corporate partners will also have a say in selecting which companies are accepted into the accelerator.) Participating startups, in turn, will get access to global corporations with massive resources and infrastructure.

“The enterprises will articulate their pain points to the startups and they’ll have the opportunity to solve them, but there are no special hooks or first right of refusal,” Morin said. “If a startup has a really good idea, there’s a potential pathway to commercialization.”

“Our partners offer immense competency in marketing, logistics, and distribution, which are traditional pain points for startups,” DeVos added. “We want to open these companies up to startups. Setting it up this way adds a lot of value for both parties.”

This past fall, DeVos announced that Start Garden would stop making small, weekly investments in early-stage startups in favor of fewer, larger investments and continuing support of its portfolio companies. That decision, plus the announcement of the new IoT accelerator, highlights how quickly the Grand Rapids startup ecosystem is growing.

“There’s a uniqueness to Grand Rapids,” Morin said. “There are significant corporate resources here, but it’s small enough that all the CEOs and innovation leaders know each other. That kind of social infrastructure, needed for collaboration, doesn’t exist in places like New York and Boston.”

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