Meet Management: Director Of Operations & Finance, Paulette Perttunen

At the core of every successful organization is an individual with a strong grip on organizational history, operations, and vision for the future. At Innovate Marquette SmartZone, this prized team member is Paulette Perttunen.

To give you a real perspective on the breadth of that statement I’ll bring you back to the first time I met Paulette – as a wide eyed 18 year old. A freshman Public Relations major at Northern Michigan University, I had broad ambitions of digging into a career of storytelling through strategy and a position as a Student Marketing Assistant with Invent@NMU seemed like the perfect opportunity.

With little knowledge about the Upper Peninsula or economic development I had so much to learn. From that first conversation with Paulette it was obvious that she would be the person I and my peers could lean on with many (and I mean MANY) questions. We asked, we learned, and we felt a part of the growth and development taking place in the Upper Peninsula.


Meet Paulette Perttunen, Innovate Marquette SmartZone’s Director of Operations and Finance and unofficial institutional historian of the Invent@NMU program. As a born and raised Yooper and founding member of the Invent@NMU program, Paulette is the go-to team member for all questions regarding economic development in the Upper Peninsula.

One word that most accurately describes Paulette is “sisu”. Sisu is a Finnish term and concept that describes stoic determination, grit, resilience and hardiness. Given her strong Finnish ancestry, it’s quite fitting, but don’t let her stoic demeanor fool you! Paulette is the comic relief of the team, offering us her witty sense of humor when we need it most.

Paulette’s full embodiment of sisu can be attributed to her many years spent living in the northern Upper Peninsula. Feeling a deep connection to the familiar shoreline of Lake Superior, she has made it her mission to not only remain in this wonderful city she calls home, but work towards its innovation and economic sustainability for the future. Although leaving at times to chase new opportunities, she always finds her way back to the southern shoreline of Lake Superior.

Paulette’s dog, Marty, enjoying the beautiful Lake Superior views

Upon graduating from Marquette Senior High School, she attended Northern Michigan University (NMU), receiving a degree in both Business Management and Computer Information Systems. Post graduation, with two Bachelor’s degrees in hand, Paulette taught for a couple of years at NMU as an adjunct instructor, helping students to gain knowledge and expertise in emerging computer programs. She then landed a job with iEconomy Inc., a Marquette technology incubator similar to the modern-day Innovate Marquette SmartZone.

In conversation on this string of events Paulette reflects, “That really started the whole trying to stay in Marquette thing for me. I got a job then with iEconomy Inc., which was very much like what we’re doing now [at Invent@NMU + Innovate Marquette SmartZone], but in the year 2000. It was just ahead of its time, really. This technology incubator and accelerator led me to V.I.O. Inc., in Marquette, which was the very first helmet camera. We preceded GoPro.”

With enthusiasm, Paulette described to me how her experience working with technology startups, such as V.I.O., opened her eyes to the innovation and creativity taking place right here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It also allowed Paulette to take on many diverse roles within an organization, forging her into the key institutional asset of Innovate Marquette SmartZone that she is today.

Describing her diverse work experiences, Paulette stated, “I’ve played most, every role within the workplace from customer service and administration to product development and quality assurance, which are worlds apart. The most fun that I have had in my career is actually working within a startup, creating the policies and the practices that make the company work. And I’ve been lucky enough to do it here in Marquette for most of my career.”

Like an inventor tinkering in their tool shed, Paulette has a knack for fine-tuning policies and improving processes within organizations. This unique attribute in addition to her deep understanding of Marquette melded together with a diverse background have crafted her into SmartZone’s MVP.

“My sweet spot [at work] is the improvement process. Every little policy that you have, every little procedure that you do, everything that we do from a day to day aspect has a procedure of some sort. I pick up my pen to write something down. That’s a procedure. When you think about it now, can this procedure be improved upon? Always. I try to ideate through those procedures and figure out what are the little tweaks that we can make that might not feel like they’re huge improvements, but they’re new improvements along the way. All of a sudden you look back and you say, ‘That’s how we used to do it? That’s crazy!’ The whole time when you were making the improvements, you had no idea. I really like the strategy.”
— Paulette reflects


Unknown to many, Paulette has been an advocate for the Invent@NMU program since before the program was named.

“I was actually working with the founding director on the concept a couple of years before Invent@NMU existed. Putting the policies, practices and procedures into place to help make it go is what I did in the beginning for Invent@NMU.”

Considering Paulette has been with the program since its inception, it is an understatement to say that she is a valuable resource to both the Invent@NMU and Innovate Marquette SmartZone teams. The relationship between our two intertwined organizations is truly unique from the structural framework to the diverse group of talent to the broad range of product and business ideas that come through our door.

To further enlighten you on this unique relationship, allow me to take a step back. Invent@NMU is the idea incubator® at Northern Michigan University powered by students (like me!), and led by professionals, or to be more specific, the management team at Innovate Marquette SmartZone. From inventions and products to small businesses, we offer a variety of innovative entrepreneurial support services to campus and community members across the Upper Peninsula. After inventors and entrepreneurs bring ideas to us, our student and professional staff work step-by-step with our clients to carefully craft the product or business concept and, when appropriate, help launch it. From market analysis and initial concept refinement to prototyping, testing and marketing, we help break down the entrepreneurial process for our clients. Whether it is a product or a service idea or an existing business or concept looking to innovate from within, we believe all ideas are worth exploring®.

In fact, Innovate Marquette SmartZone has a lot of big, hairy, audacious goals for the future of Marquette and if just one of them comes to fruition, Paulette views that as a success. All goals center around the word “thrive”. Innovate Marquette SmartZone exists to allow entrepreneurs to grow and blossom while living in the Upper Peninsula by helping community members understand that entrepreneurship AND innovation are extremely attainable.

Paulette believes, “[Marquette is] going to be a place where people can move here and live here and thrive, or they can come and stay here for a couple of weeks and work here and thrive.”

One of our earliest client success stories of the Invent@NMU program is the TinKnocker Tool. Developed by a local sheet metal worker who struggled with shoulder pain, the TinKnocker Tool was invented to allow “tin knockers” to pound metal cleats more efficiently, decreasing muscle fatigue and preventing work-related injuries. The launch of this product was so successful that within weeks Ron Aho, inventor of the TinKnocker Tool, was receiving calls from major manufacturers. Currently, the TinKnocker tool is under a licensing deal with Midwest Tool & Cutlery Co., based right here in Michigan, and being sold as the The Cleat Driver online.

While reflecting on the success we have been fortunate to witness and be a part of at Invent@NMU, Paulette is most proud of the client experiences that the student team receives. This client project allowed the Invent@NMU student team to develop skills in product research and design, prototyping, small-scale manufacturing, market research and logo + package design. In fact, the run of the first 50 beta products were manufactured by NMU students in their Advanced CNC class!


If you are considering innovating your current business or pursuing a new product or business idea, Paulette has some encouraging words to share with you, “don’t be intimidated if you have an idea. Come in and talk to us about anything, whatever your idea might be. We are here to help.”

The Invent@NMU program has helped create nine companies and launch 12 products, as well as provided support for various existing local businesses, since its inception. It is our pleasure to support and service the Upper Peninsula community. We take great pride in guiding our clients through the exhilarating yet, at times, complex entrepreneurial process. To get started on your next idea, click here.

The Invent@NMU + Innovate Marquette SmartZone team is under a Non-Disclosure Agreement, guaranteeing that your idea is safe with us.

About Micah Carroll – Micah Carroll is a student at Northern Michigan University studying environmental public relations & design. He has been employed at Invent@NMU as a marketing assistant since his first year of college. In his free time Micah enjoys rock climbing, walking slacklines and capturing memories via photography.