Startup Garage’s new funding comes with new leadership and vision


Photo by Abigail Ham

The opening of the new business school indicated to VerLee that Calvin was ready for investment in entrepreneurship development.

Calvin Startup Garage — historically a student organization —  has received new funding and leadership that has propelled it to new heights in Calvin’s School of Business. Jon VerLee, former entrepreneur and current director of Calvin Startup Garage, donated $500,000 to start the program. VerLee, a 2007 graduate of Calvin, said he hopes to grow Calvin’s presence in the field of entrepreneurship, until Calvin “become[s] the go-to organization when it comes to entrepreneurship,” he said. 

The three pillars of the Startup Garage are: providing mentorship though creating connections between participants and contacts in the business world, supplying funding for student startup businesses and building community, according to VerLee.

Ashlynne Bailey, a sophomore marketing major and operations manager of Startup Garage, told Chimes she has found a community in the club. “It is amazing to find a community of people with the same interests and goals, and then to get to watch their business ideas come to life,” she said.

The eventual goal is for each business to flourish independently, but in the early phases of the startup program, “each student gets $2,000 to start up their business, and the student does not give up any control when taking this money,” VerLee told Chimes. When the business needs more funding, the Garage will help students find investors down the road, VerLee said.

VerLee is an entrepreneur himself, who recently sold his first business, Breeze, a church management software. In the wake of that sale, he decided that for the next stage of life he “didn’t want to create a new company, but [wanted to] create a machine to help create more Christ-centered businesses,” VerLee said. 

VerLee decided it was the right time to start investing in Christian startups, and Calvin was the place to do it. He told Chimes the new School of Business and the inauguration of a business-minded president were key factors in this decision. “I was asking if there were any waves and found a tsunami,” VerLee said. 

VerLee’s 10-year plan for the Garage includes hiring full-time Startup Garage staff and growing an endowment. “By the end of four years, we will have hired staff to keep the program running and raised a $2 million endowment to fund the program. By the next 10 years we want to successfully launch Christ-centered businesses in West Michigan.”

“​​The new changes are going to support future growth,” Bailey told Chimes. VerLee said that creating a space not only for Calvin students but for members of the community to get support in starting businesses is a part of his vision of creating a greater impact on the West Michigan community. “Entrepreneurship comes alive when paired with passion,” VerLee said. “You don’t have to be a business major.” 

“We currently have 16 startups either in the idea phase or running,” VerLee told Chimes. “With the hope of more to come.” Anyone can join Startup Garage by attending the meetings Wednesday nights or texting “Startups” to (833) 951- 4263.