SISU, Innovate Marquette co-host 2nd annual Innovation Week

Business students, local entrepreneurs come together for hands-on experiences and learning.
Attendees mingle during lunch sessions on the first day of the event, getting to know their peers and fellow entrepreneurs.
Attendees mingle during lunch sessions on the first day of the event, getting to know their peers and fellow entrepreneurs.
Megan Voorhees

NMU co-hosted its second annual professional development conference, Innovation Week, Feb. 21-23.

The three-day event is put on in collaboration with Innovate Marquette and SISU: The Innovative Institute. The agenda consisted of multiple keynote speakers, breakout sessions with business professionals, various interactive components for attendees to get hands-on experience and a pitch competition amongst students for a chance to win up to $50,000 from the MI Outdoor Innovation Fund.

Kristin Tanner, a programs manager at Innovate Marquette, partnered with planning committee members at NMU to host the conference. Their mission is to provide support and resources to local innovators in the community. 

“A big component of the event is to highlight the innovation that’s already happening across the Upper Peninsula,” Tanner said. “[We’re] really trying to encourage people to think outside of the box. Another important component of Innovation Week is the collaboration aspect.”

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INNOVATION WEEK — Breakout sessions dive into specific business topics. Alice Jasper’s section had attendees consider the importance of sustainability within the business culture. (Megan Voorhees)

She said there were over 240 people in attendance, with a combination of NMU students, MTU students, local business entrepreneurs and high school students were present at the event.

“[We’re] really excited about bringing folks together that might not connect on a daily basis or in their kind of typical roles,” Tanner said. “The opportunity to bring together folks across various industries, at various points in their career to bring them all together in one place and collaborate is a really exciting opportunity.”

Tanner added the mission for this year aimed to inspire, empower and spark creative curiosity for people attending. 

“We really want people to come and hopefully learn some new skills, make some connections, so that when they go back, whether it’s to their dorm room or to their community in various parts of the world, they can actually take action and make an impact in their community,” Tanner said. 

NMU Alumni Alice Jasper, sustainability professional and program director for Good For Michigan, was one of many speakers for the breakout sessions held on Thursday.

“It’s a bit surreal. It’s been awesome to observe the juxtaposition of how I experienced this community when I was a student versus how I experience it now, not only as an adult or as a professional,” Jasper said. 

Jasper mentioned the sustainability work they do within west Michigan, where a main focus is highlighting small and locally owned businesses within the community. 

“[We should] use business as a force for good,” Jasper said. “Support your local businesses, support businesses that are trying to collectively make Marquette and the U.P. a more vibrant, inclusive place to live.” 

In addition to this, Jasper mentioned the B Corporation, which pushes for businesses to thrive in more sustainable ways. They note that being sustainable does not just involve environmental factors. Sustainability also includes impacts on the workforce related to employee wellness, community factors such as giving back to the community where businesses are located and stakeholder governance, which keeps businesses accountable and ethical with their shareholders.

On the last day of the conference, NMU students had a chance to put their own business ideas into action in a competition to earn money during an event called the Pitch Competition. Heather Lindstrom was the Big Pitch winner and earned a $3,000 cash prize for her business, 906 Pet Treats. 

“I was so overwhelmed with joy, accomplishment and recognition,” Lindstrom said.

All the money she won will be allocated back into her business to help expand what she has already built. Lindstrom plans on creating a line of cat treat products and buying more equipment so products can be produced at a higher rate and sold to local vendors. 

“[The Big Pitch] is a great avenue to talk to business owners and members of our community just to get ideas out there,” Lindstrom said. “It was really interesting to see what the competition’s ideas were.”

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