Innovate Marquette SmartZone Selected To Receive Highly Competitive U.S. Economic Development Administration Capital Challenge Build To Scale Grant


Innovate Marquette SmartZone (Innovate Marquette) announced today that it has secured a Capital Challenge grant via the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) through the Build to Scale (B2S) program. The grant, called Capital Challenge, will infuse $611,911 into local economic development efforts over the next three years.

Innovate Marquette worked with the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) to apply for the grant as part of CORI’s 2021 Rural Innovation Initiative, a technical assistance program empowering rural communities to create inclusive digital economies that support scalable entrepreneurship and tech job creation. Innovate Marquette partnered with Northern Michigan University, InvestUP, and Innovation Shore Angel Network (ISAN) for the grant’s vision, and also regularly receives support from local and state partners including Accelerate UP, Lake Superior Community Partnership, the Central Upper Peninsula Planning & Development Regional Commission, the Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Conservancy, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and the City of Marquette.

“We are thrilled to learn Innovate Marquette has won a Build to Scale Capital Challenge grant,” said Leah Taylor, CORI’s head of digital economy consulting. “It takes vision and leadership to bring together disparate assets and partners into a cohesive ecosystem for the Upper Peninsula.”

“Innovate Marquette is honored to receive this win for the Marquette community, however, it’s not an award we accept single-handedly. Without support and collaboration from all of our economic development partners, championing this grant would not have been possible,” said Joe Thiel, CEO of Innovate Marquette. “Rural innovation begins when longtime residents who have built the foundation of a community work in parallel with those who have a vision for a regenerative economic future. That’s what we are seeing in Marquette today; it’s pivotal and it’s just the beginning.”

With the $611,911 provided by the Capital Challenge grant and matching funds, Innovate Marquette plans to use the new resources for the Make it Marquette Start to Scale (Marquette STS) project, which will leverage educational, economic development and capital investor partnerships. Together, with project partners, Marquette STS will educate local angel investors about scalable tech investment opportunities and connect to state, regional and national venture capital (VC) networks. Marquette STS outputs and outcomes include the following:

Support 30 scalable tech startups with the support of $5,000 to $30,000 each of financial assistance for services from crowdfunding members.

Engage 50 new angel investors to provide $750,000 in seed funding and sponsor 15 startups through acceleration.

Cultivate 25 new VC firms to invest $1.5 million to $5 million in scalable tech startups in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The project is also designed to be 100 percent sustainable after the proposed three-year project timeline

Innovate Marquette SmartZone is one of just 50 2021 Capital Challenge Grant recipients from across the U.S. and one of only two in Michigan. The grants represent a combined $36.5 million in federal funds and an additional $40 million in matching funds from a variety of private and public sector sources. Marquette was one of just 7 rural communities to receive the award this year.

Marquette has recently made headlines when it earned a Redevelopment Ready Community designation from MEDC. Marquette has also joined CORI’s Rural Innovation Network, a growing community of rural communities in 18 states working to train local residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs and empower them to launch startups that will drive their future economies.


  • 10/06/21: Man About Town – A New Business at Third Street Marketplace, an Update on the Landmark, Karl Bohnak’s Future, and a “F**K BIDEN” Flag
  • 10/04/21: DBusiness – DBusiness Daily Update: Michigan Receives $2M in Federal Development Grants for High-tech Startups, and More
  • 10/01/21: ABC10 UP – Innovate Marquette SmartZone Receives Grant For Special Project
  • 10/01/21: 9and10 News – U.S. Economic Development Admin. Awards $2M in Grants To Support Tech Startups in MI
  • 9/30/21: Upper Michigan Source – Innovate Marquette SmartZone to receive nearly $612K federal Capital Challenge grant

About Make It Marquette

Make It Marquette was created in 2021 to attract, retain, and support the people and ideas that will shape the future of the business economy in Marquette, Michigan. Make It Marquette will tell stories of those living, working, and starting businesses in Marquette. Marquette is the largest city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, 20,000 strong: big enough to be recognized by mainstream media and entrepreneurial circles as a focal point of American potential, and small enough that every person brave enough to pursue their own goals can make an impact. With a business, tech, and entrepreneurial ecosystem established and growing, broadband across the entire region, and ample space to enjoy an active and outdoor lifestyle, Marquette is an ideal place for those looking to move to a rural location. For more information, visit

About Innovate Marquette SmartZone

Innovate Marquette SmartZone was created to help coordinate, inspire, promote and lead business, government, academic and community leaders to transform Marquette County and the Upper Peninsula into a world-class entrepreneurial ecosystem. The SmartZone supports technology-based innovations, new businesses, new job creation and existing business expansion by leveraging the unique set of resources, experiences and advantages available in Marquette. The mission of the SmartZone is to create a supportive environment and robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in which entrepreneurs in all sectors can be recognized and promoted and where new business ideas can start, grow and succeed while existing ones can continue to innovate, thrive and expand. For more information, visit

Media Contact:
Adela Piper
Siren for Innovate Marquette SmartZone