IMQT Expands Team to Support Growing Start-Up Community


Innovate Marquette SmartZone Expands Team to Support Growing Entrepreneurial Start-Up Community

Former Invent@NMU Program Liaison and NMU College of Business graduate Rachel Barra to serve as SmartZone’s Program Manager

MARQUETTE, Michigan (May 23, 2017) – Now entering its second  year of operation, the Innovate Marquette SmartZone recently expanded its staff to further its efforts to support and accelerate the growth of start-ups and technology-based businesses and jobs in the Marquette area. Newly hired Program Manager Rachel Barra will work directly with CEO Ray Johnson to support SmartZone clients; inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs from the community. In Rachel’s position she will direct management of selected entrepreneurial support projects and interactions with SmartZone clients and community stakeholders, including strategic partners such as Northern Michigan University and the Invent@NMU program. Barra’s hiring expands Innovate Marquette’s capacity to support an increasing range of projects during a time of opportunity and growth within the community’s entrepreneurial eco-system.


Johnson states, “I have worked directly with Rachel over the last year and a half, supporting both clients and projects at Invent@NMU. Together we have also partnered on other entrepreneurial outreach efforts in the community—most recently the successful local angel investor start-up pitch night and support of Marquette’s SmartPrize competition.  She has always performed exceptionally well.” He is especially pleased that Barra chose to stay in Marquette. “Rachel had other opportunities available downstate. It’s a sign of Marquette’s potential that we were able keep a talented NMU graduate with a degree in Entrepreneurial Studies and “real world” experience supporting inventors like Rachel here.”


Barra is a 2016 Summa Cum Laude graduate of NMU with a Bachelor’s Degree in Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Studies. While working at Invent@NMU for the past two years in a student and client management role, Barra supervised a team of student engineers, designers, project managers, and PR/marketing specialists as they worked to help clients design, engineer, and launch their product ideas. Barra assisted more than 100 inventors and innovators in vetting, and when appropriate, further pursuing their ideas. A recent success was the launch of the TinKnocker Tool, a patent-pending HVAC installation tool invented by a local community member Ron Aho. Barra and her team helped Aho successfully navigate Invent@NMU’s five-step “napkin to market” process to the point of product launch readiness. Currently a path to market scale and other strategic options for this product are in development with the assistance of Invent@NMU and the Innovate Marquette SmartZone.


Innovate Marquette is the state of Michigan’s 16th SmartZone. It operates as a stand-alone, private, nonprofit satellite SmartZone of the successful Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation (MTEC) SmartZone in Houghton-Hancock, which has been in operation for more than 12 years. Innovate Marquette’s mission is to assist in transforming Marquette into a world-class entrepreneurial eco-system, supporting technology-based innovations, new businesses, new job creation, and existing business expansion. Learn more at

Northern Michigan University
University Center Ste 2301-B
1401 Presque Isle Ave
Marquette, MI 49855