Michigan Outdoor Innovation Fund

InvestUP Announces Michigan Outdoor Innovation Fund, a $3 Million Pre-Seed Fund to Invest in Outdoor Recreation Startup Companies

Marquette, Mich., April 2, 2024 –  InvestUP and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) today announced the creation of the Michigan Outdoor Innovation Fund, a $3 million pre-seed fund to support entrepreneurs across Michigan in the outdoor recreation industry. 

The Fund will make investments ranging from $50,000 to $250,000 in promising Michigan-based startups that are commercializing cutting-edge technologies in outdoor recreation. The Fund is the first of its kind in the Upper Peninsula, the only seed fund in any rural location across Michigan and one of only two funds managed by economic development organizations in the state.   

The fund is supported by the MEDC through the Michigan Innovate Capital Fund (MICF) program, which aims to bolster Michigan’s early-stage startup companies, create a conducive capital environment and foster high-growth technology companies. 

“The great outdoors are among Michigan’s greatest assets, and outdoor recreation is a critically important and rapidly-growing sector for the Upper Peninsula and the entire state of Michigan. The Michigan Outdoor Innovation Fund will be a gamechanger for innovators and entrepreneurs who exist at the intersection of technology, industry, tourism and natural resources, and who recognized that quality of life is often tied to the quality of outdoor recreation opportunities,” said Marty Fittante, CEO of InvestUP. “We are grateful for the opportunity to manage the Michigan Outdoor Innovation Fund, and sincerely appreciate the MEDC’s steadfast and ongoing support of outdoor recreation.” 

To better ensure success for the Fund, InvestUP has created an advisory board that features a strong group of dynamic, collaborative partners from across Michigan. The board features noteworthy regional partners, including Innovate Marquette SmartZone and Michigan Tech University.

These partners will help the Fund evaluate startups for potential investments and offer valuable connections to outdoor recreation organizations, venture funds, seed funds, and strategic investors and partners in Michigan and nationwide. 

The Fund expects to support 30 to 35 companies over the next two to three years.

Innovate Marquette, a regional SmartZone with the goal of transforming the region into a centralized hub for technology and innovation, including outdoor recreation as one of the targeted sectors, helped enable and secure the Fund through a $700,000 Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Their specialty in outdoor innovation and recreation will offer valuable connections for the Fund’s advisory board and recipients of the Fund. 

“Thanks to the MEDC’s vision and InvestUP’s stewardship, the Michigan Outdoor Innovation Fund will allow us to continue disrupting the outdoor recreation industry by investing in startups and entrepreneurs whose ideas will serve as a catalyst for economic growth as well as the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike,” said Innovate Marquette SmartZone CEO Joe Thiel. “This investment by the MEDC to launch the Michigan Outdoor Innovation Fund demonstrates their commitment to growing outdoor recreation as well as make it more accessible for everyone.”

The outdoor recreation economy nationwide continues to flourish, with annual growth of 11.8 percent in 2022. In Michigan, outdoor recreation brought $12.4 billion in value-added economic impact, and the sector includes nearly 120,000 jobs (a growth of 7.4 percent year over year) in a wide range of occupations that require various skills including design, manufacturing, retail sales and hospitality. Snow activity, in which the Upper Peninsula specializes, enjoyed an 88 percent increase in the last three years alone.

“We are proud that InvestUP is among the first organizations to receive support from the Michigan Innovate Capital Fund, which provides the state with another tool to increase the amount of capital being invested in Michigan-based competitive edge technology companies,” said Nataliya Stasiw, Equity Capital Program Director, Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “The Michigan Outdoor Innovation Fund will help accelerate high-tech innovation in outdoor recreation across the state, further diversifying Michigan’s economy. Together, we’ll continue sending a clear message to all innovators and inventors that when it comes to driving a high-tech future, they can do that and more right here in Michigan.”

In 2022, the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry moved within MEDC to strengthen the state’s focus on retaining and attracting outdoor recreation businesses and products. The office’s director, Brad Garmon, was appointed to chair the national outdoor industry Confluence of States coalition for 2023. 

“The Outdoor Recreation Industry thrives on improving product performance, incorporating more sustainable materials and processes, and responding to new user interests and demands,” said Brad Garmon, Director of the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry. “InvestUP’s Michigan Outdoor Innovation Fund will strengthen the future of Michigan’s outdoor recreation economy, ensuring that the recreation technologies and innovations of tomorrow will be made in Michigan. I look forward to working alongside them to support the ideas coming from our Michigan startups as a result of this fund.”

The Michigan Outdoor Innovation Fund is already funding entrepreneurs across Michigan in the outdoor recreation industry. Recently during Innovation Week 2024, a professional development conference for thought leaders, creatives, and entrepreneurs held by Innovate Marquette SmartZone and SISU: The Innovation Institute at Northern Michigan University, the startup Grounded, led by CEO Sam Shapiro, won the grand prize of the Outdoor Innovation Pitch competition. Shapiro walked away with a $50,000 investment funded by the Michigan Outdoor Innovation Fund for his outdoor innovation startup.

Interested companies and organizations are encouraged to visit michiganoutdoorfund.com or contact the Fund’s Managing Director, Jim Baker, by emailing jim.baker@michiganoutdoorfund.com. Dr. Baker comes to this role with significant experience, including 25 years leading Michigan Technological University’s technology commercialization and startup business development activities, 9 years as an owner of Michigan-based outdoor products manufacturing company, and active service as a board member or advisor with numerous early stage venture funding organizations, entrepreneurial support service organizations, startup companies, and non-profit conservation organizations.