Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has entered into a defining, new technological age. Have you noticed? Technology-based companies are swarming into our northern territory from Houghton – to Manistique – and everywhere else in between. Marquette, especially, has been playing an intentional role in supporting this exciting wave and is now seeing some of the best technology-based companies in the Midwest making their way into town. We had an opportunity recently to discuss this rising new scene with a number of owners & representatives from these very same businesses. Listed below you’ll find a thoughtful breakdown of how each is strengthening our communities & economy through their mastery of technology – and further still, why they’ve chosen to chase their own growth in Marquette.
*title photo courtesy of The Boreal Collective
IN THIS ARTICLE…
Able Medical Devices
The midwestern work ethic is real”
— Wade Depas
“We are a medical device contract manufacturer and developer”, Wade Depas said while describing Able Medical Devices. As Director of Quality and Product Development for the Marquette-based company, it’s safe to say that Wade is a vital component in the exciting, ongoing success of Able Medical.
Founded in late 2017, Able Medical was quick to establish its Upper Michigan presence with the help of its parent company, J.M. Longyear, which Wade describes as “a Marquette-based company with a 150-year history… best known for its role in natural resources”.
“Our customers are global”, he went on – further detailing Able Medical’s services, “we provide manufacturing and engineering excellence that is rooted not universally, but very strongly in our regional universities, along with our experience to provide excellent quality products and customer service… our customers are medical device companies (mostly companies that design and sell orthopedic implants and instruments) who need help manufacturing their products… they send us their product blueprints and we help refine those specifications, then manufacture the product for them”.
“Manufacturing technology grows year over year, so we rely on state-of-the-art equipment during every step of the manufacturing process”, Wade made sure to say about the technology Able Medical wields to deliver their expert services, “… these products have to be very reliable and that often means very tight dimensional requirements and heavy quality inspection burden. Technology helps us meet these needs effectively and efficiently. As a relatively new company, we are nimble and can adopt these technologies rather easily.”
“We also perform product development activities where we are identifying new opportunities and needs in the market, then designing and developing safe and effective medical devices from scratch”, he added. Growing up in Menominee, Wade worked in the Minneapolis area for a few years following his graduation from MTU with a Biomedical Engineering degree. “[I had] the opportunity to come back to the U.P. and work in my field. I’ve been working in the Medical Device industry for 18 years, with 15 of them being spent in the U.P.”. A dedicated Yooper, Wade is able to clearly see his company’s place within the growing tech culture here in Marquette; “we are here to help this area prosper as a rural community. We believe we can have it all”.
“Marquette offers a unique blend of urban and rural life, and creates a relaxed atmosphere that I really enjoy working in.”
— Co-founder, Silas Talley
Silas Talley, co-founder & Creative Director, started Ambitious Games with his co-founder and friend John Rapavi, Ambitious Games’ Business Director, when they were in college at Northern Michigan University. Together, they lead an exciting team of indie game developers as they work on REVN, one of the newest additions to the MOBA Shooter genre that’s just recently become available on Steam for Early Access.
Utilizing technology & next-gen software like Radical Motion, Fridai & Unreal Engine, Ambitious Games is firmly rooted in the growing tech sphere here in Marquette. “While the majority of our customers are the players of our games”, Silas continued, “we also offer services to other creative tech businesses, such as outsourcing data analytics, motion capture and more… I’m excited to collaborate with other tech companies as more and more appear in Marquette”.
Ambitious Games takes a notably interesting approach to both its working environments & its game development, both of which exist upon a strict set of “pillars” that drive the studio’s culture forwards. Silas and his company have not only set incredible standards on a proper work-life balance for their team but are also massive advocates for the creative process, active communication, and the importance & respect for failure (AmbitiousGames).
One doesn’t need to look very far to see just how deep these standards are woven through Ambitious Games’ foundations. On the Steam Store page for REVN, the game celebrates & embraces its ‘Early Access’ status by advertising the game as being in active, “community-driven” development. Meaning, Silas and various other members of the dev team run active Discord channels, host weekly community events, and even invite their entire player base to join in on live playtests and to provide feedback on the game during its ongoing development.
– oh, and did we mention? REVN is free-to-play.
To learn more about the indie studio, and to find out where you can get your hands on an Early Access copy of REVN, check out Ambitious Games.
Eco Smart Home Pros
“As we grow in Marquette, we will invest more into the community with both volunteer hours and financial investments. Helping communities is a passion and I believe that it is the ultimate sign of a successful business.”
— Steven Donley
Eco Smart Home Pros, a Muskegon-based technology support & installation company, recently landed in Marquette in order to expand their business into a new, secondary location right here in town. Being that they’re one of the freshest additions to our buzzing Marquette tech culture, we were very excited to learn about why they chose to make Marquette their new home.
Steven Donley, Chief Operations Officer for Eco Smart Home Pros – and also the one responsible for their recent expansion into Marquette – made sure to clarify the reasoning behind their new northern adventure; “I decided to expand to Marquette because the U.P. does not have the technological support that it needs to attract a younger, tech-based workforce”, Steven began. He talked at length about the recent closure of Best Buy’s Marquette location earlier last year, saying that there’s now an alarming need for not only technological support services – but also a way to purchase the technology itself. “Our company is able to offer those technologies to the U.P. again. While Meijer, Target and Walmart sell TVs, smart light bulbs, and Arlo security cameras, they don’t offer many competitive solutions, high-quality solutions or the full-service installation that we are able to provide”.
Commenting on Michigan Governor Whitmer’s recently announced plan to make Michigan carbon neutral by 2050, Steven seems to understand some of the big technological steps Upper Michigan, in general, will need to take in order to help achieve this goal; “I think home energy consumption is the biggest area for technological improvement in the U.P. Many of the homes in the area were built decades ago before there were major advances in insulation and building materials. This has resulted in high energy consumption and some of the highest energy prices in the state. In order for Marquette to become carbon neutral by 2050, the city will need to implement more sustainable power solutions. This can be achieved sooner if the energy consumption is decreasing while the power companies increase the amount of energy produced via renewable sources”. Leaning on his years of experience with smart tech, Steven believes that those technologies will be instrumental in helping to find solutions for reducing that energy consumption in our area.
Thinking on the coming years for Eco Smart Home Pros, Steven has this to say; “I’m excited about our future in Marquette because we are filling a void that was lost recently, [as well as] bringing additional options that previously have not existed in the U.P.. While the market is different from our downstate office, it will be fun settling into our niche and bringing technology solutions to businesses and citizens that have been previously unavailable to the region… we are bringing decades of experience with our team of specialists. Whether it’s a simple television mount or a full-fledged home automation setup – we have the tools and knowledge to complete the job”.
“I’m very excited to see more companies coming to Marquette”, Steven added, “I love that various groups are looking to attract more tech work to the area because of the growing industry and the average pay that many tech companies offer… this is a great opportunity for the U.P… this type of growth will lead to long-term economic growth for the area”. Similarly passionate about education in technology, Steven made sure to point out the benefits to technological growth in Upper Michigan; “As Marquette attracts more tech work, I also think that other businesses will follow… tech businesses will help to attract more students to the local universities and provide great partnerships between the schools and businesses”.
Edge of Reality VR Arcade
“The Marquette community and Edge of Reality have supported each other many times over the last few years. We look forward to this continuing relationship – keeping the location in Marquette as a base of operations while the company continues to grow.”
— Rob Shirlin
Utilizing the cutting edge of Virtual Reality systems & technology, Rob Shirlin, owner of Edge of Reality Arcade, offers a suite of unmissable services to the local community and “people of all walks of life”. In addition to their games & entertainment options on-site, Edge of Reality also works to provide in-home experiences for community members with limited accessibility. Edge of Reality also serves our hospice community by providing in-home VR equipment, knowledge, and opportunities.
In chatting about the company’s origin, Rob let us know it was started by cognitive Neuroscientist Dr. Jeff Nyquist with a purely medical focus on cognitive improvements. They worked with traumatic brain injury, concussion recovery, PTSD, hospice, relaxation, focus, sports training, to name a few.
“Dr. Nyquist was very forward-thinking in using this new [virtual reality] technology with programs he created to help improve people’s situations”. Said Rob.
As intriguing as these virtual reality systems are in relation to medical care and patient recovery, it was unfortunate to learn that the tech atmosphere that existed here in Marquette at the time wasn’t quite ready to fully support their ambitions. “Dr. Nyquist was offered the opportunity and financial backing to move the medical focus of the company to a more supportive, progressive area. I was offered the opportunity to purchase the business here in Marquette”.
Around the same time, Rob began to notice a small, but growing public interest in their VR systems for a different use; “we had some people coming in that had heard we had VR equipment, they wondered if we offered the opportunity for gaming. As all equipment needs testing before getting shipped to medical clients, it seemed like a good idea”. Seeing an opportunity to stitch the two worlds of medical care and entertainment together in a mutually beneficial way, Rob officially opened Edge of Reality VR Arcade on January 1st, 2018.
Speaking more on the entertainment side of the business, Rob told us there are over 50 games/experiences available every month with new content added regularly. “We allow anyone access to the best VR equipment available… I see [VR] as a positive opportunity to explore more of what the world has to offer. With the growing diverse opportunities in the area, individuals and groups can have the freedom to engage with each other – sharing knowledge that is more globally available”.
Obviously a firm believer in nurturing an environment where local communities have access to the latest technological improvements and advancements, Rob trusts that this kind of accessibility will “allow people to discover new paths for their own talents to flourish”.
“I am proud to be a part of this community”, he went on, “I have lived in bigger cities and smaller ones but I come back to Marquette… as people learn more about the technology around us, we will continue to grow; learning together, educating each other, laughing together with families, sharing experiences and so much more”. To learn more about Edge of Reality VR Arcade and their ongoing community ambitions – or to book your own VR Arcade experience – make sure to visit them at realityarcade.net
Kall Morris Inc. (KMI)
“The longstanding values of the area, including hard work, collaborative effort and engaging development are internalized at KMI – and a strong reason for setting our future in Marquette… the ‘Yooper kindness’ and meetups in Marquette allow ‘iron to sharpen iron’. Ideas are exchanged and tested over local beers, coffees or waterfalls – and this will continue to grow and strengthen the technical nature of Marquette and its many developments.”
— Troy Morris
So, what is Kall Morris, Inc.? In the words of Troy Morris, Co-Founder and Director of Operations “KMI is an orbital debris research and solution development company, our work involves the study of orbital factors, followed by the creation and refinement of technology to capture uncontrolled objects through specific and specialized hardware, software and techniques”.
A space company in Marquette? Yep. At its inception, KMI was originally between NYC, Chicago & Philadelphia – but eventually made a very “intentional” move to Marquette for quality of life, community support, technical workforce, and geographic qualities. The company is looking to add organizations like NASA & The United States Space Force to its client roster, all the while its founders, all NMU alumnus, maintain firm respect and appreciation for the local community here in Marquette.
When asked about the importance of technology within the business Troy had to say, “Technology is the extension of human ingenuity, and is crucial for KMI and our mission, technology is used in the identification, tracking, spacecraft launch, approach, characterization, capture, detumbling, relocation and repurposing of debris – involving anywhere from a few ingenious pieces of code and mechanical creations to hundreds of systems working together in concert. These various technologies allow faster and more informed action – often with higher efficiency – than [what was] possible years ago”.
While quick to celebrate and praise the significant growth & progress being made with these technological advancements seen over recent years, Troy was equally as fast to comment on why we should take care to invest in something even more fundamental; people.
“Tomorrow’s engineers and astronauts are in today’s classrooms, and adequate support and engagement for this education lead to a continued interest when entering higher education… unfortunately when many complete their education in the U.P. they’re often forced to find employment elsewhere in the country. Some of these technological workers are able to eventually work remotely and return, but many are lost… Supporting these workers early with the in-state industry will ease this loss, while affordable housing will allow them to stay, and their out-of-state peers to return… This support of the workforce is part of the intentional future development in Marquette. With an ecological advantage stretching along our shores & horizons, the careful development of community-inclusive aspects will increase the interest and appeal of Marquette, easing the attraction of further technological careers, businesses and employment. By supporting the lifecycle of the people that drive the technology – from childhood, to early careers, to founding their own families – Marquette can continue to be a strong and ‘Superior’ community”.
KMI believes in working from first principles, collaborating for the collective betterment of our world, and if you’re going to fail, fail fast. With those ideas in mind, they welcome engagement, including eager academics, fellow space fans, and motivated members of the community. Feel welcome to reach out through their website, kallmorris.com, or through social media where they’re sharing their work towards #KeepingSpaceClearForAll.
SwimSmart Warning Systems
“Our system can currently operate on about 90% of the United State’s coastal and Great Lakes beaches. As our technology matures we can begin operating systems anywhere.”
— Jacob Soter
“I’m relatively new to Marquette but I moved here specifically because of the growing tech culture”
Jacob Soter, founder of SwimSmart Warning Systems had to say. His technology is an intelligent beachfront safety system that’s currently being installed on beaches & along shores throughout Michigan, which is best described as a red/yellow/green traffic light that warns swimmers of high/moderate/low swimming risks. Further describing how the technology itself works, Jacob commented that “our lights connect directly to the National Weather Service, so as the weather changes our lights change color automatically. This allows us to connect in locations where a flag-based system would not be possible… many beaches use a cloth flag of similar colors that must be changed manually multiple times a day… our ultimate goal is to prevent drownings”.
“The technology began as a research project I worked on in college”, Jacob noted, crediting organizations like Innovate Marquette SmartZone, MTec SmartZone, InvestUP and NMU as being “crucial to our ongoing success”. “[They] welcomed me in with open arms and have been a great resource to growing my business… it’s exciting to see others begin their entrepreneurial journey with these great organizations behind them”.
Featuring the following quote, “drowning is a neglected public health emergency”, from the World Health Organization on their own website, SwimSmart has a clear goal to provide a modern solution to an obviously outdated safety system.
Further state-wide research allows SwimSmart to estimate that “70% of current-related drowning incidents on the Great Lakes occur in ‘Red Flag’ conditions”, which is an eerie statistic that’s sure to resonate with Marquette’s residents, in particular (SwimSmart).
SwimSmart’s technology systems connect directly to cloud-based servers, meaning that their entire network of safety devices are controlled remotely, completely eliminating the need for any on-site manual flag-based safety instruments. “We use cutting edge technologies to create a system that can connect where others can’t. Eventually, we’ll be able to forecast, monitor and respond to beach hazards around the country – all from our office in Marquette”.
But why locate their headquarters in Marquette if they can be anywhere along the coast? “Marquette, and the U.P. in general, is a very unique and beautiful place to live”, Jacob said, “it allows us to offer future employees an environment and lifestyle that is unlike any other” He also mentioned the local talent available from NMU and MTU. To learn more about SwimSmart Warning Systems, and which beaches are currently outfitted with this exciting new technology, check out SwimSmart’s official website.
Upper Peninsula Cybersecurity Institute (UPCI)
“We started the Upper Peninsula Cybersecurity Institute to help increase training opportunities and options for Upper Peninsula residents interested in entering into the Cyber/Networking/IT workspace.”
— Doug Miller
Doug Miller, Director of the Upper Peninsula Cybersecurity Institute (UPCI), has a passion for all things cyber. The institute offers non-degree and industry credentials relevant to those interested in emerging careers in cybersecurity. It provides additional career exploration and training opportunities with U.P. K-12 school districts and postsecondary institutions and can also augment NMU’s existing cyber defense bachelor’s degree.
“We have something for everyone”, Doug stated, “we offer Cybersecurity and Networking Certification courses and provide support and outreach to our UP K12 teachers interested in incorporating these topics into their classrooms. We also conduct multiple non-certification training courses for small businesses and residents of the UP interested in increasing their cyber hygiene and general knowledge of computers and networking”. Describing itself as a community-based resource for developing and diversifying a strong cybersecurity workforce in the U.P., the UPCI is, notably, the only facility of its kind in Upper Michigan.
Commenting briefly on how critically needed the tech culture is in Marquette, Doug is no stranger to the growing needs of our local community and the Upper Peninsula as a whole, saying that we need to be better at providing opportunities for our children and making them aware of the opportunities in these [tech] careers as options. Using the UPCI as a modern example for educational opportunities, Doug noted that “all of our classes have been remote and online. We have folks from across the U.P. in courses and they haven’t had to physically be here in Marquette. This online course capability is a great example of how we are leveraging technology to help increase knowledge and awareness of cybersecurity and networking”.
Doug’s incredible efforts within technological advancement & education have earned him and the university some notable acknowledgments such as Northern Michigan University being designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE), a program jointly sponsored by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security.
If you’d like to learn more about the UPCI and its mission, Doug encourages you to check out the Upper Peninsula Cybersecurity Institute’s website. Also visit a recent Make it Marquette video/article, which featured both himself and his work through their ongoing “People of Marquette” series.
The U.P. is just… built differently, and by extension – the very companies that have found their home here must build their bricks and mortar a bit differently. After hearing from these leading tech companies in our local community, however, it’s plain to see that they’ve stumbled across something totally unique about our region. That common factor is, quite simply, Marquette’s own business community.
Here, there’s mutual growth, support and collaboration at the purest level. A place where everyone’s welcome to the table and encouraged to chart their own accomplishments however they like. At the core of each of these businesses is, undoubtedly, a clear, unobstructed intention to just embrace Marquette. Our entrepreneurs and their support systems pour a wholesome amount of unconditional love into this community, just as our community has risen to support them and their ambitions. Stood atop these wholesome, neighborly approaches to entrepreneurship, is the very success that they choose to define themselves by – the only question that remains is, who will we see next?
We love making new connections and celebrating tech in our community. If you or someone you know should be included in this article, reach out to us here!