SmartZone grant to be used for outdoor innovation center


Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — A coalition of Marquette-area organizations, spearheaded by Innovate Marquette SmartZone, have been awarded a $700,000 grant for the creation and management of the Marquette Outdoor Innovation Center.

The goal of the center is to use the potential of the Upper Peninsula’s unique outdoor assets to encourage entrepreneurs to invest in the economy of the area while fostering innovation from companies that focus on outdoor recreation.

The grant is made up of $555,000 of United States Department of Agriculture money, along with a $145,000 local match that comes from Innovate Marquette, Northern Michigan University, Michigan Works and the Lake Superior Community Partnership.

The MOV Innovation Center represents a four-part strategy from the partners involved in the program that focuses on providing education and investment programming for outdoor recreation-based entrepreneurs, and the development of a group workspace for those entrepreneurs. The partnership will also aim to establish a talent pipeline through education and training to promote jobs in the field and to support incubator programs that promote outdoor recreation innovation and allow those programs to have access to potential funding.

“This wasn’t just us working on our own. This was a collaboration between a lot of players and people at the local municipal, state and federal levels,” said Joe Thiel, Innovate Marquette CEO. “We don’t want to take credit for all of this, we’re just a piece. We’ve had support from other organizations that see our vision. We are one of three cities in the country to get this funding. We only get to that level by having intelligent people working together on a common goal with a big vision for the future.”

The outdoor industry plays a massive part of the Michigan economy, particularly in the Upper Peninsula, with outdoor recreation and recreational vehicle money injecting more than $5 million into the economy in 2020 and 2021.

“Eventually, we would like to build this into a Michigan entity based in the U.P. that supports outdoor innovation at the state level. This is the first phase of multiple phases that over time will build a hub of industry around outdoor innovation,” Thiel said. “We want to innovate, develop and test those products here.”

The partnership between Innovate Marquette and Northern Michigan University will help NMU move its Invent@NMU program forward. The university’s business incubator program encourages entrepreneurs to work with NMU to get potential business ideas off of the ground using the school’s infrastructure.

Randy Crouch can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His email address is rcrouch@miningjournal.net.


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