State Grant Supports Invent@NMU, Innovate Marquette SmartZone Collaboration

Tuesday 27, 2017

Northern Michigan University has received a $1.15 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to implement a collaborative operating agreement involving Invent@NMU and the Innovate Marquette SmartZone. Both entities have developed distinct approaches toward the common goal of promoting regional economic development. The new grant-funded partnership enables them to continue that work collectively and more efficiently from one location, enhancing the services provided to inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Invent@NMU gives students real-world experience helping clients bring physical products from concept to market. Under the guidance of professional mentors, students develop competitive skill sets related to design, manufacturing and marketing and provide this expertise to a variety of client ideas. The Innovate Marquette SmartZone has cultivated an entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports the accelerated creation and growth of technology-based businesses in Marquette. It offers a broad array of services, training, mentoring and networking programs for tech-based start-up ideas and new business creation.

"We want to thank the MEDC, the governor and state leaders for their support through this grant," said NMU President Fritz Erickson, who is also a member of the Innovate Marquette SmartZone’s board of directors. "This unique collaboration advances a number of Northern Michigan University's strategic goals: to expand access in ways that create beneficial learning and living opportunities for NMU students and U.P. residents; to provide students with innovative experiential learning environments; and to support the region's and state's economic development. The synergy from pairing Invent@NMU and Innovate Marquette creates a dynamic level of potential success for regional inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, and the NMU students involved in their idea and product development endeavors."

NMU will serve as the fiscal agent for the grant. It will continue to select student employees and provide Innovate Marquette with office space and equipment in the Invent@NMU facility on Presque Isle Avenue. Innovate Marquette SmartZone, led by CEO Ray Johnson, will assume responsibility for the management and operations of Invent@NMU. Coupling both functions will create a one-stop shop for inventors and entrepreneurs, reducing public confusion about which entity to approach with an idea and facilitating targeted client attention from the moment someone walks through the door.

“It just makes a whole lot of sense to put our teams together and work in concert so we are effectively utilizing resources and capabilities to serve our community,” Johnson said. “I’ve experienced other entrepreneurial ecosystems in places like Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas and Boulder, Colorado. This is truly a unique capability we’ve created based on a proven record of successes supporting new business ideas and entrepreneurs of all types.”

Clients of Invent@NMU and Innovate Marquette will have access to the university’s expanding Educational Access Network (EAN), an effort to deliver high-speed educational broadband to rural communities. Those in traditionally underserved areas of the Upper Peninsula could gain access to the services and capabilities of Invent@NMU and Innovate Marquette through an online EAN portal.

The MEDC’s Michigan Strategic Fund board this morning approved the grant, which is payable over three years. The NMU Foundation will take the lead in creating a financially sustainable collaboration beyond the grant period by identifying and securing additional public and/or private funding.

For more information on Invent@NMU or the EAN, contact Steve VandenAvond, NMU vice president for extended learning and community engagement, at or 906-227-6766. Also visit or For more information on Innovate Marquette SmartZone, contact Ray Johnson at or 906-273-1187. 

Kristi Evans
News Director