As part of its relocation to downtown Grand Rapids this year, digital consulting firm Twisthink LLC has formed a partnership with new neighbor Spartan Innovations to lend engineering and development services to startups.
Last year, Twisthink announced plans to relocate its headquarters from Holland to a 10,900-square-foot space inside the Michigan State University Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building that’s part of the school’s Grand Rapids Innovation Park campus in downtown Grand Rapids.
On a lower floor of the building, startup accelerator Spartan Innovations operates as a venture creation entity for the MSU Research Foundation, helping MSU entrepreneurs develop ideas, create business plans and successfully launch high tech ventures.
Keep up with all things West Michigan business. Sign up for our free newsletters today.
Twisthink’s move and an idea to make the park more of an ecosystem ended up igniting a partnership between the two companies.
“MSU is a big reason why we’re here in this building … and one of the thoughts even before we moved in was that it would be amiss if we all just coexisted in this building,” said Taryn Kutches, vice president of brand and business development at Twisthink. “It wouldn’t really add value to the Innovation Park if all we did was say ‘hi’ up and down the elevator or run into each other in the parking lot, then go about our business every day.”
Kutches said she had connected with Kyle McGregor, director of health innovations at Spartan Innovations, prior to the move. The two planned a series of regular meetings between Twisthink and Spartan Innovations, and within a few minutes of the first meeting, Kutches said a plan took shape to leverage the partnership.
Twisthink now is offering regular monthly office hours — time slots purchased by Spartan Innovations — for any startups using the incubator. The startup teams can book a time slot to seek input on various strategy, technology or design-related problems.
“Maybe they just need help developing something, or they need help designing a product or an interface, or they need help mapping out their strategy — whatever that may be, we’re hosting office hours for them to come up and meet with our team,” Kutches said. “It’s a benefit for startups because they can get services that are supported by Spartan Innovations from our team, which is just right upstairs.”
Kutches said the Twisthink team is currently engaging with two startups as the partnership program is still in its infancy. The vision is that the program would run indefinitely through a long-term partnership, she said.
“Our hope for this program is that it builds and grows, and that ultimately we help these startups create impact and scale and grow in a way that’s effective and successful for them,” Kutches said. “This all ties back to, I think, The Right Place’s 10-year tech strategy of trying to get Grand Rapids on the map in terms of digital innovation. And helping startups excel and grow and stand on their own is a big part of that. That’s ultimately why the partnership made sense and why we’re working together.”
McGregor also said the partnership with Twisthink is “a win” for the Grand Rapids entrepreneurial community and tech strategy.
As The Right Place’s tech strategy for Grand Rapids has unfolded this past year, McGregor sees more opportunities for collaboration between companies in West Michigan focused on technology or innovation.
“I think we’re going to continue to see more of that — I think that’s the sign that an ecosystem is maturing and moving on to the next phase of growth,” McGregor said. “And I think there’s been a ton of great examples, especially over the last year or two, of companies being able to come together and truly work together and partner to build amazing things.”
For McGregor, it’s beneficial for the startups using the new partnership to have access to the technical expertise of the Twisthink team. With all of the challenges that come with entrepreneurship, especially with needing various skill sets to develop and market a successful product or platform, McGregor said having help and a fresh perspective from an outside entity can be critical.
“For any entrepreneur who’s going to figure out how to solve a real problem … you’re almost going to have to rely on some outside parties to be able to help you in that journey,” McGregor said. “Sometimes getting out of your own way and actually reading things as they are written in black and white as opposed to how you want to interpret them is really challenging. That’s why a third party often is helpful, and Twisthink has been able to lean into that role.”