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Networking company launches Grand Rapids chapter

California-based Startup Grind has more than 600 chapters in more than 125 countries.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — (GRBJ) - An entrepreneur launched a local chapter of a national company that supports startups.

Corey Hart recently launched a Grand Rapids chapter of Palo Alto, California-based Startup Grind.

More than 3 million entrepreneurs attend networking meetings each month at the company’s more than 600 chapters in more than 125 countries.

In Grand Rapids, the format for now is monthly “fireside chats” and networking with local founders, CEOs and influencers. Each event is $5, and there are “discount codes galore,” Hart said.

The inaugural event in November featured Cara Debbaudt, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based technical recruiting firm BloomBright. Hart’s day job is as the company’s director of communications.

The first event had about 50 attendees, including tech startup founders and venture capital representatives, Hart said.

The second event will feature Chip LaFleur, founder and president of LaFleur Marketing. The event is 6-8 p.m. Jan. 14 at LaFleur Marketing, 549 Ottawa Ave. NW in Grand Rapids. Tickets are available online at startupgrind.com/grand-rapids.

He said the events are open to anyone who wants to learn or mentor, from students to experienced business leaders, and are relevant to anyone in business. He said the events have a strong focus on “making friends, not contacts.”

Hart recently moved back to his hometown of Grand Rapids to be closer to family after living in California since 2010.

For five years before moving West, Hart was the owner and operator of the former businesses Nightclub Moxie and Churchill’s Bar Bistro, which were located at 70 Ionia Ave. SW.

For the next seven years, he helped build the restaurant company Gaglione Brothers Famous Steaks & Subs as operating partner in San Diego.

He then joined San Francisco-based food technology startup Chef Meal Kits as a consultant and was quickly promoted to staff, then co-founder and later COO, he said. Part of his job was to raise capital for the company.

Hart has missed a lot over the past decade, he noted. He left the area at the very start of the economic boom downtown when the entrepreneurial ecosystem was much quieter. It’s not quite San Francisco, but he’s noticed a definite change.

“I see how far Grand Rapids has come in the decade that I was gone,” he said.

While networking and looking for work locally, he heard talk that the community still is somewhat siloed and lacking in diversity — “not a lot of opportunities for people to be rubbing elbows.”

Though he thinks there are some strong programs supporting startup development, he sees a lack of support and guidance for businesses’ next steps.

“Once someone graduates from a program or finds one support organization, it's not automatically clear where their next steps are,” Hart said. “You might have a bit of community inside whatever cohort you're in, and then as soon as you graduate, you're on your island again.”

That’s when he went to Google and found Startup Grind, he said.

He said chapter directors are charged with helping their local community in whatever way they feel is best.

“Community building here in West Michigan is where I see a really good fit.”

He hopes to elevate the brand locally to the point it becomes well-known throughout the community. He hopes to expand the chapter’s offerings as it gains more traction. The GVSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation already has offered hosting space for potential workshops.

Anyone with ideas or who is interested in helping can contact Hart at corey@startupgrind.com.

“I'm looking forward to growing it as organically as possible and just help support the Grand Rapids ecosystem however it needs,” Hart said.

This story originally appeared in the Grand Rapids Business Journal. To find similar content, pick up a copy or find more on their website.

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