TRAVERSE CITY — 20Fathoms turned 1 year old on July 16.
The birthday present came a week later.
Traverse City’s startup incubator received a nearly $750,000 i6 Challenge grant from the Economic Development Administration as part of its Regional Innovation Strategies program. All of these fall under the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“That’s not a bad birthday present,” 20Fathoms Executive Director Andy Cole said.
20Fathoms was one of 26 nationally to receive the three-year grant and the only Michigan recipient for 2019.
“This is the grant,” Cole said. “This is the big one.”
The $749,914 grant is to facilitate growth at 20Fathoms. The grant includes a matching amount in cash and in-kind support by local entities, which is part of the application process.
The grant submission process includes specific uses for the money. Broadly, Cole said the grant will be used for programming and talent acquisition. Specifics include a professional in-house recruiter, programming to increase the investor pool and attaining venture capital nationally.
“The purpose of the i6 Challenge is to support entrepreneurship around the country,” Cole said. “The big thing to entrepreneurship is jobs. They want to see innovation, technology, research and development and they want to see that translate into ... solutions and jobs.”
As part of its first year in operation, 20Fathoms reported that its startups created more than 100 total jobs while operating out of its 101 N. Park St. office, more than 30 of those within the local market. The average salary of those local jobs created was $90,000 a year.
Four technology patents were acquired by its member startups.
The fact that 20Fathoms was able to obtain the maximum amount of grant money resonates with Cole. He said more than 30 businesses and individuals have pledged funding and more than 10 politicians and other “people of influence” like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, submitted letters of support.
“Our community pulled together the necessary amount being matched,” Cole said.
Securing the large federal grant wrapped up what has been an outstanding inaugural year, Cole said. He added 20Fathoms submitted seven grant submissions and was awarded grants each time.
“We’re seven for seven,” Cole said. “Two of the seven we can’t publicly announce.”
Traverse City Downtown Development Authority CEO Jean Derenzy announced at its monthly meeting on July 19 that the DDA received a $71,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Grant for 20Fathoms. It’s Phase II of the USDA grant that began with a more than $92,000 award.
“It’s definitely an added value for downtown,” Derenzy said of 20Fathoms.
Cole said the support 20Fathoms has received has allowed it to obtain operational sustainability in one year, something that incubators often take three to five, if it is ever obtained.
“The reason for this success is strictly because of the community supporting us and being part of us this year,” Cole said. “None of this is possible if we don’t have that community support.”
Cole reported 20Fathoms has more than 50 members and hosted more than 20 startups. Three of those — Atlas Space Operations, SampleServe and HealthBridge — have “graduated” outside of 20Fathoms, even though some have not formally moved to other locations yet.
Those three companies were presented with Employer of Tomorrow awards at the 20Fathoms celebration.
“The entrepreneurs of today are the employers of tomorrow,” Cole said. “That’s what drives us.
“Those are going to be the business leaders in Traverse City.”