20Fathoms 1 of 9 in Rural Innovation Initiative

Record-Eagle file photoAndy Cole, executive director of the non-profit organization 20Fathoms, stands in the organization's office space at 101 North Park Street in Traverse City.

TRAVERSE CITY — Selection as one of nine participants in the 2019 Rural Innovation Initiative is no guarantee of operational funding for 20Fathoms.

But the Traverse City technology and entrepreneurship has an advantage as it pursues up to $750,000 in funding opportunities from the United States Economic Development Administration, according to 20Fathoms Executive Director Andy Cole. The funding must be matched by the organization.

Being selected by the Center of Rural Innovation (CORI) and its sister organization, Rural innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI) will assist 20Fathoms in the grant writing process.

"This is like taking a final exam in a class, but the professor is your study buddy," Cole said.

According to a release from RISI, the Rural Innovation Initiative participants "receive a range of support, from on-site and video conferencing time with RISI staff to templates and written materials as they execute an innovation hub strategy."

The nine selected to the initiative are a mix of technology hubs and small communities. Joining 20Fathoms in the initiative are:

— Codefi and the Marquette Tech District Foundation in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

— Emporia, Kansas

— Grinnell, Iowa

— Independence, Oregon

— Go Forward in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

— Block22 in Pittsburg, Kansas

— Red Wing Ignite in Red Wing, Minnesota

— City of Wilson, North Carolina

More than 130 communities from 40 states applied for the grant in what Cole called "a highly competitive national search." Being selected for the initiative is an accomplishment, he added.

"This is a huge deal," Cole said. "This is a badge of approval."

According to criteria from RISI, successful applicants had a combination of positive attributes including existing high-speed broadband, available real estate or space in New Market Tax Credit and/or Opportunity Zones, a nonprofit organization to lead the project and partnership with a four-year endowed residential college or university campus partner.

Cole said 20Fathoms fits the Rural Innovation Initiative extremely well.

"This grant looks like it was made for us," he said.

In the release, CORI Founder and Executive Director Matt Dunne added "Traverse City is the right community to partner with this aggressive effort."

Cole said the EDA funds can be used in several venues, including program development and expenses, staff and equipment. He said 20Fathoms would target the first two areas.

Job creation in general and well-paying positions in particular are big parts of the what the EDA is looking for with its grant awards. Cole said 20Fathoms has delivered on both points since it opened on July 27, 2018.

20Fathoms has 50 members comprised of 21 start-ups and entrepreneurs. Cole said those members have created 42 jobs, 12 local positions and 30 remote positions.

Cole said the average salary of the 12 local jobs created is $87,000.

"That's $1 million a year flowing into the community that wasn't here before," he said.

20Fathoms, which received its 501(c)(3) status in October, needs to finish its grant application by April 4. Cole said the application needs several letters of support as well as matching funds from "key stakeholders in the community."

"We have to hustle," Cole said. "These things take a long time and a ton of work."

Business writer