MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Tuesday that Innovate Marquette SmartZone (Innovate Marquette), as well as three project partners in Northern Michigan University (NMU), Lake Superior Community Partnership (LSCP), and Michigan Works!, have been awarded a $700,000 Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) grant. The grant funds will be used to support the creation and management of the Marquette Outdoor Venture (MOV) Innovation Center.

UPDATE 12/02/2022

The Innovate Marquette SmartZone recently received a $700,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture. This grant will support the creation and operation of the market outdoor venture Innovation Center. This incubator for ideas and strategies is necessary for entrepreneurial opportunities in the future. Innovate Marquette’s CEO Joe Thiel believes that outdoor innovation has the potential to be one of the largest components of tomorrow’s economy.

“What really drove this was that through the pandemic and through COVID we’ve had this whole new ability that goes on the auto recreation space. And with the emergence of these new technologies, the solar technologies, battery technologies, all that innovation has become like a vacuum, so now all these outdoor adventures, they want these new products, they want to be able to go out there and do more creature comforts,” Thiel said. “Think about anything you do in the outdoor recreation space. Take that thought of how you can make that easier, faster, more efficient, more creature comfort friendly for you to do it. And anything in that space is what we’re looking for.”

Along with grant money, Innovate Marquette has announced the addition of an entrepreneur in residence. David Olilla, a seasoned veteran in bringing ideas to market will act as a mentor to young entrepreneurs.

“I have a home at Innovate Marquette SmartZone to guide and support entrepreneurship development in outdoor recreation innovation,” Ollila said.

The planned site of the Outdoor Innovation Center is along the dead river just north of Holly Street in North Marquette. This three-acre site will eventually become ShopHouse Park, a place where innovators can collaborate and develop ideas, all while enjoying the unspoiled beauty of the area.

“We think that we can build community development that serves the locals from an outdoor recreation resource but also draws in innovators and entrepreneurs and businesses.” said Ollila. “From across the country to focus on outdoor recreation, innovation, and support that growth in that industry that happens to be on a really incredible growth curve right now.”

With outdoor recreation contributing $9.5 billion to Michigan’s economy last year, with a year-to-year growth rate of 15%. The innovate markets outdoor venture Innovation Center is poised to become a major force in Michigan’s outdoor recreation economy.

“We have this program to support a year-long runway as a steppingstone to a much bigger program, which will later be called ShopHouse Park,” said Thiel. “As of today, no timeline has been set for the completion of the Innovation Center.”

Innovate Marquette included the following about plans for the MOV Innovation Center in a release:

The MOV Innovation Center will exist as an ecosystem of support to diversify and strengthen the rural regional economy by leveraging assets, increasing collaboration, and accelerating the growth of small businesses and jobs in the emerging industry cluster of outdoor recreation innovation, focused on innovative products, mobility/limited mobility, and smart connected platforms/systems.

Partners in the project are working together to implement four strategies: 

  • Provide education, outreach, and investment programming for outdoor recreation innovation entrepreneurs. 
  • Develop a Makerspace (Protolab) for entrepreneurs in outdoor recreation access and mobility products.
  • Establish a talent pipeline via education and training pathways for high quality, new economy outdoor recreation jobs.
  • Augment the Innovate Marquette accelerator and incubator programs to promote outdoor recreation innovation and connect entrepreneurs to venture capital. 

“USDA Rural Development is always seeking new partners to help foster innovation and growth,” said Brandon Fewins, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director for Michigan. “This represents a tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurs in the Marquette area.”

Innovate Marquette says the MOV Innovation Center will utilize the area’s natural resources and four-season recreational assets, as well as resources in manufacturing and innovation, postsecondary education, existing broadband infrastructure, and digital economy foundation to focus on an industry cluster in outdoor recreation innovation, with a focus on mobility, limited mobility, and smart connected platforms and systems.

According to a report cited by Innovate Marquette, the industry is on the upswing in Marquette County, with outdoor recreation spending hitting $2.9 million in 2020, while recreational vehicles and fees spending posted another $2.5 million.

Funding from the $700,000 USDA grant is composed of $555,000 federal monies and a $145,000 local match coming from Innovate Marquette and program partners.

Innovate Marquette’s partners each added the following regarding the awarded funding:

NMU:

As a comprehensive rural-serving university in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Northern Michigan University values the important responsibility of partnership and collaboration in support of our community’s prosperity. This grant partnership will accelerate student experiential learning through a new mobile outreach initiative of the university’s Invent@NMU program, an innovative model for assisting entrepreneurs in bringing new ideas to market. It will also support the Sustainability Hub for Innovation and the Environment’s (“SHINE”) efforts to provide applied learning experiences and interdisciplinary credentials relevant for outdoor industry careers. (quote attributed to David Nyberg, Executive Director, Business Engagement and Economic Development, Northern Michigan University) 

LSCP:

The natural beauty we find ourselves surrounded by here in Marquette County and the Upper Peninsula overall has always been an incredible asset from an economic standpoint. The MOV Innovation Center will help turn ideas into reality, tapping into our legacy of innovation, manufacturing, and outdoors expertise in the region. The LSCP is honored to be part of this collaborative effort, working along our local and regional partners. It is especially exciting to see this USDA grant be awarded at a time when the State of Michigan is also showing significant interest in the outdoor recreation industry and our regional economic development goals to develop this cluster. (quote attributed to Christopher Germain, Chief Executive Officer, Lake Superior Community Partnership)

Michigan Works!:

From the Porcupine Mountains to the Hiawatha National Forest, the Upper Peninsula is brimming with opportunities for outdoor recreation. We live, work, and play in one of the most ecologically and geographically diverse regions in Michigan. At Upper Peninsula Michigan Works!, we support all sectors of the workforce, including outdoor recreation. We leverage our expertise and relationships to create talent pipelines, and we support job seekers and employers with our comprehensive programs and services. We are excited about the potential impact of this grant and look forward to collaborating with our partners to grow the outdoor recreation sector and boost regional economic development. (quote attributed to Bill Raymond, CEO, U.P. Michigan Works!)

You can learn more about Innovate Marquette here.