MUSKEGON — Grand Valley State University plans to rebrand and refocus its business incubator in the city of Muskegon.
After 13 years of operating as the Michigan Alternative Energy Center (MAREC), the 25,000-square-foot facility will be rebranded as the Muskegon Innovation Hub, according to the university.
While the business incubator had always welcomed tenants outside of the energy sector, the Muskegon Innovation Hub will now focus on attracting startup organizations working on innovative products and services from all industries, said Director Kevin Ricco.
“Energy is always going to be a part of our portfolio, but it’s just a piece of what we’re going to be working with,” Ricco told MiBiz. “Really, we’re focusing on innovation. It could be an innovative product, it could be an innovative service of some type.”
The rebranding process comes as one of the final steps in a larger strategic plan that began in 2013 to better market the organization and attract a wider range of clients to the space, Ricco said.
“We started piecing things together and (found) there was a huge disconnect between our name and the things we were trying to do as a program,” Ricco said. “Right then and there, it was very clear to us that we needed to change our name.”
While Muskegon Innovation Hub currently has four active tenants and expects to add two more in the next two months, Ricco said confusion over the MAREC brand dissuaded people from joining the organization in the past.
“It’s certainly impacted us (and) we know we lost clients,” Ricco said of the MAREC brand. “We’ve heard that firsthand from clients that went to other resource partners simply because they felt like they didn’t fit in our facility.”
The organization partnered with Grand Ledge-based consultants Kuntzsch Solutions Inc. to help with the rebranding project and conduct surveys with Muskegon residents.
In addition to the rebranding project, Muskegon Innovation Hub is also in the process of converting 3,000 square feet of its incubator to co-working space, dubbed CoLaunch. The organization saw a need for co-working space in Muskegon, Ricco said.
While GVSU is “testing the waters” with the co-working project, Ricco believes offering the service is a necessary step in creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem at the facility.
“Really, the idea with the co-working space is so much about creating that collaborative community, connecting like-minded entrepreneurs and startups together and creating those synergies that you just can’t get if you’re working in a coffee shop or out of your basement,” he said. “That’s really what we’re building with the co-working space.”
When the CoLaunch project is finished, the Muskegon Innovation Hub will have invested more than $70,000 in the initiative and the rebranding process, Ricco said.
The organization plans to host an open house promoting CoLaunch and to explain the rebranding process to the community on June 20, Ricco added.
MAREC first opened in 2003 as part of what was then known as Edison Landing, the home of the Muskegon Smart Zone. At the time, the facility was intended as a demonstration project of the latest energy technologies — including heat recovery systems, photovoltaics, fuel cells and battery storage — and as an incubator for high-tech energy firms.
During MAREC’s first six years of operation, many in the Muskegon business community criticized the operation’s emphasis on product development involving outside firms and its lack of engagement with local entrepreneurs, as MiBiz reported at the time.
After founding director Imad Mahawili resigned in 2009, long-time Muskegon executive Arn Boezaart took over as director, worked to open the facility to the community and focused on programming to encourage business formation. Boezaart retired in 2014, and Ricco joined the organization later that year.