Smartzone brings ideas to life for entrepreneurs
Thursday, June 8, 2017

HOUGHTON/MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) – Every great invention or product began as nothing more than an idea. But figuring out how to take it from idea to reality is often the hardest part. But thankfully, the Houghton Smartzone and its satellite Smartzone in Marquette, know exactly where to start.

"The Smartzone is a business incubator,” said Jason Mack, the Vice President of Business Development with the Houghton Smartzone. “We're one of about 16 in the state of Michigan, and our aim is to grow more businesses in the local community."

With the Smartzone's help, entrepreneurs can explore the operations, funding, and marketing needed to launch and grow a business or product at any stage of development.

"They can come to us at any point in the evolution of an idea,” said Ray Johnson, CEO of Innovate Marquette Smartzone. “For example, we have folks that have walked in and the idea is still in their head, and then we have just recently had an entrepreneur that already has a patent. So we work with them at any point in the process."

Both the Houghton and Marquette locations believe the services offered at each Smartzone not only help individual entrepreneurs, but also the Upper Peninsula’s economy as a whole.

"We take their ideas and bring them forward into creating products, businesses, and frankly more jobs in the region and in the community," said Johnson.

"We want to really support the local community,” said Mack. “We're really trying to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Not just here in the Houghton/Hancock area, but really throughout as much of the U.P. as possible."

But in order for an idea to come to life, the entrepreneur must always take a leap of faith.

"It's a first call, it's an email, and a meeting with me, where I can do an assessment of what I think they might have, the challenges they might face in bringing an idea to fruition, and taking it from the back of a napkin to an actual commercial launch, and all the steps in between," said Johnson.

If you believe either Smartzone location could help your idea become a reality, visit the Houghton Smartzone website here or the Marquette Smartzone here.

SmartZone’s mission: Change future of Copper Country
Monday, March 6, 2017

HOUGHTON — With the 15-year extension of funding for the Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation SmartZone, Marilyn Clark, SmartZone chief executive officer, recently discussed the changes SmartZone has brought to the area, as well as improvements made as a result.

“Not only have we gotten the investment in terms of renovatings building and recruiting companies to put satellite offices here,” Clark said, “but those offices hire people and students in the Copper Country.”

The SmartZone also has gained the reputation of being able to start companies, she said. While the goal of the organization is to start seven businesses per year, last year the SmartZone started 10, and in 2014, 22 businesses were started, Clark said.

She added the SmartZone also has a history of helping these and other companies grow.

In terms of economic gains to the local area, Clark said she is proud of the accomplishments of the SmartZone.

“Last year we brought about $20 million here with the clients that we work with, in terms of sales and investment grants, loans, etc. that go into the community,” she said.

This, Clark pointed out, is not money simply recycled through the community but is revenue brought here from other areas.

“Most of the companies that work in the SmartZone actually do their business outside the Copper Country,” she said. “So, all the revenue that they bring to pay employees, etc. comes from Detroit and France and Asia and California — from all around the world.”

Clark proudly said since the SmartZone became operational in 2003, it has made a lot of progress.

“The look of Houghton and Hancock are totally different than they were 14 years ago,” she said. “Look how beautiful the cityscape is, and it all comes down to money flowing into the area from outside.”

SmartZone gets funding
Friday, March 3, 2017

HOUGHTON — The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has approved a 15-year extension in funding for the Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation’s SmartZone, a non-profit business and technology incubator comprising the cities of Houghton and Hancock. The new authorization extends the support of the MTEC SmartZone to 2032.

Marilyn Clark, SmartZone Chief Executive Officer, said work on extending the funding of the SmartZone began in during the summer of 2012. One of the requirements for the funding extension was to create a satellite, which was accomplished in Marquette. The satellite became active in September, 2015, Clark said.

“Then there were some changes at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and so our application, as did everybody else’s, stalled, but we finally got approval,” Clark said. She received notice of the extension on Friday, Feb. 24, she said, which will allow long-term planning to begin.

“Usually, creating an entrepreneurial eco-system takes 20 to 30 years,” Clark said. “Our first level of funding got us 15 years in and I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress.” The extension in funding, she said, will help complete the SmartZone started.

When the SmartZone was first started in 2002, Houghton did not have a single marketing company, Clark said.

“Now we have two. One is regional and expanding into Wisconsin, and the other is very highly successful in the area and rebranding and moving into product development. “So, we’ve also brought in human relations sourcing here, we have a CFO for hire, we have lawyers who will help entrepreneurs.”

Houghton’s is one of 17 SmartZones throughout the state of Michigan. They were designed to facilitate the development of high-tech companies to create family sustaining jobs, and to ween the state’s economy off the automotive industry, Clark said.

“So, I feel like we’re just starting, and the next 15 years will create even more accelerated results than we have seen in the past.”

MTEC Featured in Wendy Kennedy Case Study
Wednesday, April 29, 2015

MTEC SmartZone hosted Wendy Kennedy to train other Michigan SmartZones and local mentors about leading and advising start-up and incubation companies. The teams came out thoroughly impressed and learned outstanding ways to help companies grow.

To view the case study click here.

MTEC Smart Zone continues impact and growth
Friday, April 3, 2015

KEWEENAW — Two Upper Peninsula lawmakers are being recognized for their support of new business.

With more than 500 jobs already created, the MTEC SmartZone continues to impact the Keweenaw area. But, those new companies may never have gotten started without the help of our state legislators throughout the years supporting the SmartZone.

That includes recent work done by State Senator Tom Casperson and State Representative Scott Dianda that extends funding for the SmartZone for another 15 years.

“So the work that has started, said MTEC Smartzone CEO Marilyn Clark. “We can leverage that and just go from success to success in the next fifteen years.”

Senator Tom Casperson says the MTEC SmartZone helps preserve one of our most precious resources, our young people. “This process does exactly the opposite,” said Casperson. “This process actually takes our children that are working and coming out of these universities and tapping into their talent and their expertise to create these small businesses, keep them here and create jobs.”

The investment in entrepreneurship has been paying off and Representative Scott Dianda says it’s important that lawmakers continue to support the SmartZone’s growth. “Anybody we can encourage to come up here and start a business and hire our people and to take a look at our infrastructure and be able to invest in a lot of our older buildings, is a win–win for everybody up here,” said Dianda.

State leaders recognized by MTEC SmartZone
Friday, April 3, 2015

The MTEC SmartZone in Houghton is designed to get new companies off the ground, and to help grow existing businesses.


MTEC SmartZone's CEO Marilyn Clark explained, "The SmartZone is a entrepreneur development organization, and it's these people who have the passion to take their ideas forward that really make a difference in our community."


On Thursday, State Senator Tom Casperson and State Representative Scott Dianda were awarded Certificates of Appreciation from the MTEC SmartZone.


"We're there to support Michigan Tech and their SmartZone and their ideas," said State Rep. Dianda. "Because it is just improving the quality of life in Houghton, along with the whole U.P. now." However, the state leaders say the credit is due elsewhere.


"We played our role in the legislative part of it," commented State Sen. Casperson. "But quite frankly, the people on the ground that did the work really deserve the credit here because they made it happen, and didn't just come to us with a good idea and that's as far as it went, they actually implemented it."


Rep. Dianda continued by saying, "Each one of these businesses have the ability to go bigger and bigger because of the support they have here at the SmartZone."


Benjamin Civola is the CEO of Life Cycle Solutions, which is a business that started up through the MTEC SmartZone. Civola said, "Without the state support, the SmartZone wouldn't be here. And without the SmartZone, we wouldn't be here. So the whole system has been really working well for us and we've really appreciated all the help."


Going forward, the two U.P. lawmakers plan to watch the SmartZone grow bigger and better.


"I think our role in this, at this point, is simply to be a helping role in making sure that we don't create obstacles that slows this process down," said Sen. Casperson. "And I think that if we do that the people on the ground will do some amazing things."


2014 was a year of significant growth for the MTEC SmartZone as it created 83 local jobs and generated almost $20,000 in local revenue within that one year.


Marquette SmartZone process takes key step
Thursday, January 29, 2015

MARQUETTE - Marquette's SmartZone, which would operate as a satellite to the MTEC SmartZone based in the Keweenaw Peninsula, is potentially within a couple months of receiving final state approval.

SmartZones look to create growth of high-tech jobs by providing various resources and expertise to business owners looking to develop innovative ideas and opportunities.

The Marquette City Commission entered into an agreement with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation on Monday. The city's SmartZone plan will be sent to the MEDC for another review and then to the state treasurer's office, which will decide whether to approve the zone's Tax Increment Financing plan, allowing for the capture of a portion of school taxes.

The final decision is expected to be made by the end of March.

In August 2014, the city entered into an agreement with Marquette's Local Development Finance Authority, the cities of Houghton and Hancock and the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance to establish a satellite zone to the MTEC SmartZone.

But the MEDC is requiring each entity to make specific agreements with the state.

"We are the first satellite district, and this is just something that ... the MEDC attorney, or attorneys, felt like that even though we had already approved an agreement with the other communities to do a Satellite SmartZone, the attorneys felt like each entity needed an agreement with the MEDC," said Gary Simpson, chief financial officer for the city of Marquette. "So in effect, we're kind of setting the standard for the other satellites as they come into fruition."

Commissioner Sara Cambensy said the SmartZone plan also requires a budget that must include at least $200,000 per year for operations, something she said was different from the first SmartZones.

Simpson said the city would have to take out a loan, he estimated at less than $50,000, to meet that requirement for the first year, based on what would be captured through the SmartZone's TIF plan.

The TIF plan allows the city's Local Development Finance Authority to collect a limited portion of taxable property value increases after 2014 for the SmartZone.

Additionally, the authority would capture 50 percent of both the state school millage and the school district millage on any taxable value increase after 2014.

The total capture is estimated to be $17.5 million over the 15-year TIF plan. The SmartZone would last as long as the city wants, Simpson said.

Cambensy said she wanted to reaffirm that the city could opt out of the agreement, should the school tax equation change or for some other reason that could result in a financial shortfall.

"By going with this agreement, I think the biggest difference is that the first SmartZones didn't have to pay. They didn't have to come up with an absolute amount," Cambensy said. "So in signing this agreement, I want to make sure that the city still retains some control should we not get any business - I don't think that's going to happen - but if we sign this, do we say 'Every year we will continue to contribute however much is needed to satisfy the state'?"

Simpson said the city commission will still retain control by approving the budget of the Local Development Finance Authority, and it's up to the LDFA to make sure the SmartZone balances its budget.

However, the city is committed to the $200,000 per year, Simpson said, if it wants to remain a satellite zone.

"If we aren't going to live up to that, then we're not going to be a Satellite SmartZone. We'll just have to opt out of it all together," Simpson said. "Now, the hope is - initially that is something we'll have to deal with, particularly the first year, how we're going to incorporate that into the budget - but the hope is in future years, this is an economic development tool, so it's not only meant to create jobs and keep people that are educated in Marquette in Marquette, but it's also to grow the tax base, so that hopefully in future years we're going to be bringing in a lot more money than what's being invested. But it's not going to happen the first year, so the first year will be a little bit of a challenge."

Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.

MTEC SmartZone creates dozens of jobs
Monday, January 26, 2015

HOUGHTON -- The Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation SmartZone in Houghton plays a major role in creating jobs in the area.

Just last year, 83 jobs were developed, almost double from 2013.

"They help us find talent, ways to recruit and find talent. They help with round-tables and our leadership being able to get back with other leadership in the community to learn from," said Lynn Eliason, Director of Operations for GS Engineering. "How to facility our growth into the future."

GS Engineering provides businesses across the U.S. with engineering solutions. With the help of the MTEC SmartZone they went from ten employees to now more than 50.

"We take people who have an idea, but not yet a business and help them vet whether somebody will help pay for their idea," said Marilyn Clark, CEO of MTEC SmartZone. "The ones who have high growth potential we bring into the incubator and really facilitate their growth."

The incubator helps starting businesses with funding, and temporary office space until they become financially sustainable.

Their services helped create 83 high tech jobs in 2014, and funnel more than $19 million to the area.

Since 2002 they have been able to create around 500 local jobs.

"We are starting to see that growth. When you start a company they are starting with one or two people and they don't add job until later. So, you have to keep adding those jobs to get the leverage effect. So, we're really excited about the benefit here," Clark said.

The SmartZone not only helps people turn their ideas into a business, they are also bringing more people to the area.

"As we decided to come back to the area it also brought indirect jobs because my husband being a lawyer wanted to come to the area and open a law practice. He now employs two other lawyers, and administrative assistants. So, his office is growing," Eliason said.

The SmartZone looks to bring in more businesses to expand their reach and hire local talent.

For video coverage of the story visit

Smart Zone in Marquette still a possibility
Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Source: Upper Michigan's Source

A Smart Zone could soon be coming to Marquette
Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Source: Upper Michigan's Source