Lakeshore Advantage launches startup incubator

Nestled on the sixth floor of one of downtown Holland’s tallest buildings, the new SURGE Center is designed to offer perspective in more ways than one.

Part of Lakeshore Advantage, the regional economic development organization, the pilot business incubator is designed to give entrepreneurs the clarity they need to be successful.

The SURGE program provides high-potential product and technology entrepreneurs with the tools and resources they need to launch and commercialize successful companies.
“This SURGE Center is more than a business incubator,” says Jennifer Owens, Lakeshore Advantage president.  “This is a place where our vibrant startup community can gather, make great connections, and get that powerful boost forward into further growth and opportunities.”
Providing support at every stage

The goal of SURGE Center is to build the density of the startup community, shining a light on all the innovation happening in the region. The hope is that this visibility will attract other startups, talent, and investments to Holland. The SURGE Center already has 20 member companies since its opening, double the anticipated membership.
“What the membership numbers indicate to me is that there is such a desire for a space like this,” says Amanda Chocko, Lakeshore Advantage’s director of entrepreneurship for SURGE.  “In tandem with the SmartZone, we support high-tech and product startups from concept through commercialization. In addition to member engagement and social activities, we provide programming and resources for each stage of development.”

Lakeshore Advantage is contracted by the Holland SmartZone to administer SURGE.  The SmartZone provides funding through tax increment financing to pay for programming and infrastructure designed to support product and technology startups that have the potential to create jobs and build economic vitality. Currently, the SURGE Center is supported by the Holland SmartZone, Lakeshore Advantage, and membership dues. Memberships range from $95 to $350 monthly.  

“Emerging companies need more than just financial capital in order to thrive and grow; they require social and intellectual capital,” says Brian Burch, managing partner of Burch Partners and chairman of the Holland SmartZone LDFA. ”By bringing those elements together with startups into a single space, the SURGE Center can help foster interactions between startups, support resources and more. As the community matures, more people are bouncing more ideas off each other, creating new businesses and further developing Holland’s startup ecosystem.”

SURGE Center tenants are limited to high-tech, high-growth startup companies and the organizations that support them.  

Entrepreneurs learn from each other

Dan Goeman says he finds value in the SURGE Center beyond an attractive workspace with some of the best views in downtown Holland. 

“I love meeting other founders here, Goeman says. “We were just talking about the challenges of fundraising, so we're comparing notes. It’s a place where we can learn from each other. 

“The environment is great, and the community manager, Amanda Chaco, is really good at driving engagement with people. And that makes the value beyond a great space. It’s space driving interaction with people who are facing similar challenges, so it’s a good way to learn.”.

In 2019, Goeman launched Quint, a business focused on office furniture for homes.

“We're rethinking how furniture gets made, and how it actually serves a consumer buying experience in a different way, because furniture is one of the most difficult things to buy, or deal with,” says Goeman, whose pre-pandemic idea is well-positioned for workers who have embraced remote working in the last few years.

Tapping members’ experience, expertise

Goeman reflects a shift in entrepreneurs. The average age is increasing, Chocko says.

“When we started SURGE back five years ago, our entrepreneurs tended to be more in their 20s or early 30s, and people coming out of college,” she says. “Now our average age for entrepreneurs is probably 35 to 55, and it’s people coming out of the corporate world who just want to have their own experience. They have a lot of domain expertise and connections.” 

SURGE is working with several organizations to create extra value for members, including Hope College organizations, the Hope Entrepreneurship Initiative, and the Office of Possibilities along with Seamless Wellbeing, which matches investors with tech startups.

 “The SURGE Center provides a low-cost professional office setting for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs. The amenities and location are perfect for our stage of development,” says Dana Lowell, Lilypad Labs CEO and SURGE Center Member.  “The SURGE Center ecosystem allows for like-minded innovators and risk-takers to exchange ideas, experiences and support related to scaling their dreams.”


Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.