December 9, 2023


Supportive Business Potential

Camille Hoisington: Small-town startups, big-time innovation | Business

Camille Hoisington: Small-town startups, big-time innovation | Business



Don’t let “rural” fool you. Despite our location in the landscape of northern Michigan, the Traverse City area has blossomed into a hub for entrepreneurial minds.

It is no surprise that the surrounding natural beauty, four seasons of outdoor recreation, and thriving cultural scene have attracted creatives and entrepreneurs for years.

However, a uniquely supportive entrepreneurial environment has flourished in recent years, placing Traverse City on the map as a popular destination to start new business ideas. Investors — such as the Northern Michigan Angels and Boomerang Catapult — have injected about $15 million collectively into 50-plus local startups.

In addition to local investors, the programs and services of 20Fathoms and TCNewTech spark the connections for ideas to take off.

Traverse Connect’s very own Scale Up North Awards offers another avenue to convene the business leaders of Traverse City, stimulate the growth of new ideas, and celebrate the innovations coming out of northern Michigan. Previous Scale Up North competitor ATLAS Space Operations knows what it takes to plant an idea in rural Michigan and the hard work it takes to grow.

In 2015, ATLAS Space Operations was founded to shake up the space communications industry, bringing the rapidly growing aerospace industry to Michigan.

Originally from Gaylord, co-founder Mike Carey and his partners started the company on the West Coast, but felt drawn to move his family back to his home state. After securing funding from angel investors in Ann Arbor and Northern Michigan Angels in Traverse City, the company moved its headquarters to northern Michigan.

Despite its remote location, founders believe that northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula can become a thriving part of the aerospace industry, luring more space-related companies and jobs to the region.

“Northern Michigan is filled with a lot of natural and human resources. The only thing required for the space industry (to thrive) is to focus on that segment,” Carey said in a Petoskey News-Review article.

ATLAS competed in the 2020 Scale Up North Awards to draw attention to the innovative work happening right here.

“ATLAS entered the competition to demonstrate, publicly, the talent we have and the global space market we serve from our Traverse City headquarters,” said co-founder Mike Carey. “We expected to be challenged to communicate our unique value proposition and to learn from the other competitors … and our expectations were surpassed.”

Startups face especially dynamic obstacles, so having a supportive ecosystem is essential in the early years.

“There was a genuineness to the judges that encouraged us to press on through the challenges we faced,” Carey said. “We competed in 2020, the year COVID hit. It was a scary time, and (Scale Up North) helped us see our resilience by challenging us to communicate our path forward.”

After making it through the challenges of the past two years, ATLAS now seeks to expand its Traverse City-based team, reviewing an influx of applicants from the nation’s top technical institutions. Carey said they haven’t had a problem attracting talent to Traverse City, and even with ground stations across the globe, ATLAS remains rooted in rural northern Michigan.

There is something in the water here that not only attracts curious minds but also fosters a culture of collaboration.

The Scale Up North Awards harness this synergy into an opportunity for local businesses to learn from each other and come out stronger.

“Many of the challenges that we face at ATLAS are shared across diverse Traverse City industries,” says Carey. “However, we are truly a community of leaders who can help one another.”

Moreover, Traverse City attracts problem solvers and leaders who work together for the growth and benefit of the whole community.

“Northern Michigan has a wealth of like-minded businesses eager to collaborate and improve the whole business community as the best means to achieve their own objectives. So refreshing,” said Chris Teter, owner of Higher Grounds, a finalist in 2020 and 2021 Scale Up North Awards.

Traverse Connect looks forward to gathering the business community together once again to compete and celebrate during the 2022 Scale Up North Awards this spring. Join the dynamic, uplifting community of small business leaders today, and apply for the Scale Up North Awards.

Camille Hoisington is Traverse Connect’s director of ecosystem development.