20 Fathoms: Tech Incubator Gaining Momentum

    Traverse City, MICH (WPBN/WGTU) -- Is northern Michigan becoming a high-tech mecca? Maybe. It certainly gaining a reputation for being a good place for entrepreneurs to set-up home base.

    And now there’s a new incubator in Traverse City.

    The incubator has been operating for about seven months and already the success stories are mounting.

    Through a side door on Park Street in Traverse City, half-a-block off Front Street, up to the second floor, the elevator doors open to a light-filled space with modern furniture and artwork from students at Interlochen Arts Academy.

    It’s a space meant to foster creativity and collaboration.

    Russell Schindler says, “And the reason is because you can look at how somebody at another company, at another industry is doing something. And as you look at it, you learn, like, I could do that in my industry.”

    Russell Schindler is the president of SampleServe, a company that collects environmental data for their clients.

    Schindler says, “And then we take that data and send samples to the laboratory and then we marry the field data and the lab data together and we can then generate reports for our clients.”

    And through use of technology “we’re able to automate things so that what used to take 2 or 3 days now takes about 6 seconds,” he says.

    Schindler says his company has gone from 3 employees to more than 20 in less than a year.

    “We’re busting at the seams in there now. And it’s in large part because we’re here.”

    The “Here” Schindler is referring to is 20 Fathoms.

    “We take people who are working on exponential growth opportunities and we do whatever we can to provide resources for them and help them and connect them to people who can help them so that they can be more successful sooner than they otherwise would,” says Andy Cole, Traverse City native and Executive Director of 20 Fathoms.

    Cole says the team behind 20 Fathoms worked for 2 years before opening in July of 2018. They wanted to make sure the northern Michigan community understood the what an incubator like could bring.

    It worked.

    They raised $500,000 from the private sector.

    That investment allowed 20 Fathoms to offer space for 53 people to work on whatever it is they’re working on; from drones to footwear to cryptocurrency mining.

    Today all but three of those spaces are taken.

    “The fact that we’ve gotten 50 members in 6 months shows that Traverse City was ready for this,” says Cole.

    And in fact, it was more than ready.

    20 Fathoms is starting to experience growth of its own and Cole can easily see the need for more room for more startups in the near future.

    To that end, 20 Fathoms has applied for some help when it comes to a significant federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (USEDA).

    Out of 130 applicants, 20 Fathoms was chosen and they’ll be requesting up to $750,000 from the USEDA which would double thanks to a local match.

    “This funding can really take 20 Fathoms to the next level,” says Cole.

    And that means more desks, more support for members, and more staff to help members get to the next level, themselves.

    “It’s hard to put your finger on the exact thing or technique that you’re going to learn,” says SampleServe’s Schindler, “but you will learn something and I guarantee you will be better off being here.”

    Cole says they should have more information about that federal grant later this spring.

    And as far as Russell Schindler and SampleServe, he says he’s had ‘the conversation’ with Cole about moving-out and freeing-up some space for another entrepreneur to move in.

    It’s something that Cole says is cause for celebration: another startup able to thrive on its own and be in a position to help the next wave of entrepreneurs.

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