Northern Michigan University is among four project partners awarded a $700,000 Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support the creation and management of the Marquette Outdoor Venture (MOV) Innovation Center. The funding was awarded to Innovate Marquette SmartZone, along with partners NMU, Lake Superior Community Partnership, and Michigan Works!
According to a news release, the MOV Innovation Center will accelerate the growth of small businesses and jobs in the outdoor recreation industry, focused on innovative products, mobility/limited mobility and smart-connected platforms and systems. By leveraging assets and increasing collaboration, the center will serve as an ecosystem of support to diversify and strengthen the regional economy.
“We're humbled and proud to receive the grant award,” said Joe Thiel, NMU alumnus nd CEO of Innovate Marquette. “The potential for economic growth in the outdoor recreation mobility and accessibility sector, particularly for the U.P., is massive. This grant will support our efforts to create a smooth path for investment to flow right here to the incredible startups accelerating here, and the structures in place to support them.”
In Marquette County, outdoor recreation spending hit $2.9 million in 2020, while recreational vehicles and fees spending totaled $2.5 million.
“This grant partnership will accelerate student experiential learning through a new mobile outreach initiative of the university's Invent@NMU program,” said Dave Nyberg, NMU executive director of business engagement and economic development. “It will also support the Sustainability Hub for Innovation and the Environment (SHINE) in providing applied learning experiences and interdisciplinary credentials relevant for outdoor industry careers.”
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; and
-Augment the Innovate Marquette accelerator and incubator programs to promote outdoor recreation innovation and connect entrepreneurs to venture capital.
“The MOV Innovation Center will help turn ideas into reality, tapping into our legacy of innovation, manufacturing and outdoors expertise in the region,” said Christopher Germain, NMU alumnus and CEO of Lake Superior Community Partnership. “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.”
“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.”
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.
“At Upper Peninsula Michigan Works!, we support all sectors of the workforce, including outdoor recreation,” said Bill Raymond, CEO of U.P. Michigan Works! “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.”
Find more information on the USDA RISE grant program here. Progress updates on the MOV Innovation Center will be provided at various stages by Innovate Marquette SmartZone.