Married, With Startups

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A newly married couple is building a relationship and two companies in Grand Rapids.

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If start-ups are like babies, then Laura and Ryan Vaughn are starting out their marriage with twins. The Grand Rapids couple celebrated their wedding just a few months ago, after which they dedicated a few tweets to marital bliss, took a 10-day break from their social networks, then quickly returned to the entrepreneurial fray. We met the pair today at The Factory, the downtown co-working space that Laura currently uses as an office. Ryan's office is just a few blocks away--another node in the small but dense tech ecosystem of Grand Rapids.

Ryan's company, Varsity News Network, could rightly be called a toddler at this point. Launched in 2010, VNN bills itself as "ESPN.com for high schools," giving high school athletic programs the digital tools they require to publish and promote news about their sports teams. Simultaneously, VNN creates an opportunity for aspiring journalists to learn about online media production through coverage of their high school games. VNN closed a round of funding with Michigan Pre-Seed Capital in January of this year.

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Meanwhile, Laura's start-up is truly a newborn, having earned its first $5000 just a month ago in a pitch to the Grand Rapids seed fund, StartGarden. Her idea came out of planning her own wedding, finding that existing templates for wedding websites were poorly designed and visually offensive (I can vouch--they are the worst). After designing a custom site for Ryan and herself, she was inspired to create a series of templates for other soon-to-be wed couples. The concept was simple: she wouldn't offer event planning or organizing, just a simple framework for communicating basic information to guests. She calls it Sitting in a Tree. Each theme has a name--the "Kate," for example, will have a modern vibe. Users will pay a small monthly fee to keep the site live in the lead-up to their event. 

Given the attention demands of nascent tech ventures, it's inevitable that the Vaughns take their work home with them, but they don't seem to mind--at least not yet. They regularly tweet with each other about start-up culture, quote inspiring tech leaders, and post encouraging comments in their respective corners of the internet. A lot of good practice for a lifetime of co-working.

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Sarah Rich is the editor of Smithsonian's Design Decoded blog, co-founder of Longshot Magazine and the Foodprint Project, and a former senior editor at Dwell. Her most recent book, Urban Farms, was published in June 2012. 

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