SmartZone set to expand

HANCOCK – The MTEC SmartZone will be expanding to a satellite in Marquette, its CEO said at a Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance meeting Wednesday.

Marilyn Clark said the new satellite would enable the MTEC SmartZone economic incubator to extend its original 15-year funding from the state, which would otherwise expire in 2017.

MTEC is one of three of the state’s 18 SmartZones that will be able to renew its funding if they find a partner, along with Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids.

“We are lucky enough that Marquette is very interested, and Northern Michigan University is very interested, in creating the same kind of energy that they see in Houghton to create a SmartZone as well,” Clark said.

Clark said at next year’s board meeting, once the satellite has been launched, the board will begin to discuss what will happen after the state funding runs out in 2032.

There’s a real opportunity for collaboration with Marquette, Clark said. Houghton is 15 percent below the national average in venture capital funding; Marquette is 15 percent above.

“They have some skills there in terms of how to attract money that we don’t have,” she said. “We have some companies at this point that are at the cusp – it’s three years earlier then I’d hoped, which I’m excited about – who need the funding to continue growing to reach their potential.”

While Houghton gets access to more sophisticated funding, Clark said, Marquette gets “the access to all those great minds and that research at Michigan Tech.”

“Both parties are hoping that not only do we extend our funding and put great SmartZones in place that could be self-standing, but that we create a method of collaboration that helps each of us be better than we would without the other,” she said.

Clark envisioned collaborations in clusters such as life sciences, energy, technology and green engineering.

“We feel like there’s been a great impact on this community,” she said. “Many of the people you don’t know quite as well because most of their business is outside the area. They are the people who are bringing money in.

“The collaboration with Marquette is going to give us an opportunity to continue that work in Houghton, and have a much more synergetic relationship with Marquette.”