SmartZone’s accelerator to boost local businesses by infusing equity funds

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Jeff Ratcliffe, executive director of the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance, discusses the MTEC SmartZone’s proposed accelerator program for start-ups at the Houghton County Board meeting Tuesday.

HOUGHTON — The MTEC SmartZone is looking to attract dynamic companies to the Keweenaw, and is pursuing grants to make it happen.

The Advanced Material and Manufacturing Process Accelerator, which would be based in Houghton, would be designed to help companies advance from the research and development phase to the commercialization phase.

“Right now, we take startups, people who have ideas,” Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance Executive Director Jeff Ratcliffe said Tuesday. “This is finding people that already have the ideas, that have already formed a company and are moving through the process to get it out into the market and pairing it with demand in the market.”

The accelerator would be a partnership between Michigan Technological University, MTEC SmartZone, the SmartZone satellite Innovate Marquette and the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance. As part of the collaboration, a $10 million equity seed fund will be created for the entrepreneur companies.

The SmartZone is looking for a $500,000 Economic Development Administration grant to set up the accelerator, as well as a $300,000 EDA grant to help establish the seed equity fund.

Ratcliffe said they are working on a feasibility study for the accelerator.

The Houghton County Board and Houghton City Council both passed resolutions this week in support of the efforts.

Houghton County Commissioner Scott Ala said the funding could help companies grow at a crucial point in their development where they often have trouble finding funding.

“This is a really good thing,” he said.