Why those starting Lakeshore small businesses are betting they’ll beat the odds

Starting a business today has never been easier to do. With access to e-commerce platforms like Shopify and tutorials on YouTube, all it takes is a few clicks to start a website and make a business dream a reality. 
Jordan Vanderham
What remains a challenge is keeping that business "in business.” Across West Michigan and throughout the Lakeshore, businesses have faced the same difficulties as entrepreneurs across the country. The statistics for starting a business are dire. Half of all small businesses fail within the first five years, and the recent labor and supply chain challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed many small-business owners to the brink. 

But even with the effects of the pandemic, the desire to start a business journey has grown. In 2021, there were 5.4 million small business applications in the United States. That's up 2 million from 2019, an increase of nearly 60%. 

So what motivates people to start a business, and more importantly, why launch one on the Lakeshore? 

Over the past year, The Lakeshore West Michigan has interviewed business leaders and entrepreneurs across industries and asked the same question — what makes the Lakeshore a great place to start and run a business? 

Here are the five reasons that you should start a business on Michigan’s West Coast, according to people who've done it. 

1. Access to resources

Take a stroll through the Holland Farmer's Market on a summer morning and you'll realize the plentiful natural resources the Lakeshore has to offer. From inland agriculture to manufacturing in the urban core to the endless views of Lake Michigan, the area surrounding the city is a geographical gem for small businesses to source local resources. 
Spera Foods founder Hannah Raycraft
But the value of the area isn't just centered around organic resources. The Lakeshore is strategically placed between major U.S. cities like Chicago and Detroit, meaning access to more prominent industries and markets. 

The area also has access to niche manufacturers and suppliers, which can provide stability and trust for startups dipping their toes into developing products. 

Hannah Raycraft, the founder of Spera Foods, partnered with Total Food Package in Spring Lake and Midwest Organics in Holland for product importing. She says that owning a business along the Lakeshore has provided support and access to the prominent agriculture and food industry. 

Even though the area’s cities feel like small towns, that doesn't mean the resources are limited. 

2. Iconic corporations

The headquarters for Gentex, Yangfeng, Haworth, and MillerKnoll (formerly Herman Miller) are all along the Lakeshore, providing plentiful business opportunities. 

Luciano Hernandez IV
Beyond putting West Michigan on the map, these corporations have created an economic environment for other businesses to support their infrastructure. That could be as straightforward as hiring a marketing consultant or as complex as contracting for product development. 

One such business, Tiger Studio, has been built through 20 years of projects alongside Yangfeng and Millerknoll. Founder Luciano Hernandez IV credits his decades of success to the community that inspires him to give back. 

"Yes, we want to be successful, but we want to be part of the community and make our community better," Hernandez says. 

Because of these iconic corporations' reach, Lakeshore small businesses can help support their needs. In addition, this relationship has the potential for a startup entrepreneur to connect with an international corporation just down the road.

3. Cost of living

According to data from BestPlaces and City-Data.com, the cost of living in Holland is 10% to 15% below the U.S. average. 
Kylen Blom
With significantly less cost than in metropolitan areas, starting a business on the Lakeshore can help provide better work/life balance by reducing stress at home. This is critical for entrepreneurs, as they are more likely to suffer from mental health challenges compared to other workers. 

Beyond personal living, the infrastructure costs of building a business are significantly less along the Lakeshore than in many other locations. Cost-saving business resources include the downtown fiber-optics network, collaborative workspaces, and access to talent with the proximity of Hope College, Grand Valley State University (GVSU), and Grand Rapids Community College's new Lakeshore Campus.  

Kylen Blom, the founder of Silkscreen Marketing, has worked as an entrepreneur in the Holland area since he was a student at Hope. He says the Lakeshore is a receptive place to new ideas for business and offers the infrastructure to support them. 

"We've got really awesome coworking spaces downtown and around town," says Blom. "That boils over into coffee shops, where there are just incredible amounts of talented people with access to enormous networks." 

The low cost of living, coupled with the accessible business infrastructure makes the Lakeshore an affordable and practical place to launch a business idea. 

4. Lakeshore Advantage

Building a business along the Lakeshore isn't complete without the support of ​​Lakeshore Advantage, a nonprofit economic development organization that helps local entrepreneurs start and scale their businesses. 
Charles Elwood
Local entrepreneur and artificial intelligence consultant Charles Elwood says Lakeshore Advantage's SURGE Bootcamp gave him the confidence to launch his consulting business. 

"People are so contained by their fears that they don't go out and take the journey or get other people to take the journey," he says. 

The week before he quit his full-time job to start the consulting business, Elwood shared the news with fellow boot camp attendees. 

"I told them, 'On Monday, I'm leaving my job and starting my business.' I put my head down, and all I heard was applause." When Elwood looked up, he was surrounded by a group of supporters that gave him the confidence to overcome any fears or uncertainty. 

"Without that moment, it would have been hard to continue," he says. 

Tiger Studio’s Hernandez has been involved with Lakeshore Advantage over the past two decades, including a stint serving on its board. But recently, he participated in SURGE alongside his son for their business Spirit Fire Aftermarket Products. 

"I started attending SURGE events, and I saw the energy that young people had with new and fresher ways to approach doing business," he says.

Having a supportive community is critical for any new business, and Lakeshore Advantage provides the financial and emotional resources to make starting a Lakeshore business possible. 

5. The people

Of all the responses describing the advantages of starting a business along the Lakeshore, the community of people was the most popular reason. 
Scott Patchin
"Leaders in this part of Michigan get it," says Scott Patchin, the owner of The trU Group and business leader coach for more than 20 years. "They are entrepreneurial-minded because failure is not keeping them down." 

Jordan Vanderham started his business, Orindi Gear, as a student at GVSU. While his colleagues were applying for jobs, Jordan decided to go all-in on his business. 

"West Michigan has a really stellar network of people who care," Vanderham says. "The people who I know here in West Michigan are the reason I've stayed in West Michigan." 

Do you have a business idea? Are you looking to start something new? There's no better place to begin your entrepreneurial journey than Holland and the Lakeshore. 

Read more articles by Luke Ferris.