November 1, 2022 - 9:09 am

Freshwater Research and Innovation Center in Traverse City Formally Launches

By 20Fathoms

Five education and nonprofit partners this week announced they have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a Freshwater Research and Innovation Center on West Grand Traverse Bay on the current site of the Discovery Center & Pier.

The five partners are 20Fathoms, Discovery Center & Pier, Michigan Technological University,  Northwestern Michigan College, and Traverse Connect.

Once complete, the Freshwater Research and Innovation Center will establish the Grand Traverse region as a hub for applied freshwater innovation offering research, education, commercialization, incubation, and acceleration programs. Phase 1 of development is currently underway and includes fundraising, pier development, campus design and planning, and governance.

Each partner brings expertise and resources to the effort. 


20Fathoms is a tech startup incubator and coworking space in Traverse City, providing resources to help entrepreneurs and tech professionals grow their businesses and careers. The organization plans to locate their incubation program in the innovation center when complete. 

“The innovation center in Traverse City will support emerging startups drive the commercialization of freshwater and marine technology applications that solve problems affecting the Great Lakes and other freshwater systems throughout the world,” said Eric Roberts, Executive Director of 20Fathoms. “This is a strong partnership with Michigan Tech, NMC, Discovery Pier, and Traverse Connect, and we’re all working together to create something that our community will be proud of.”

Discovery Center

“The Discovery Center will serve as the conduit between the community and the research, educational opportunities and activities at the Center,” said Matt McDonough, CEO of the Discovery Center. 

The Discovery Center will develop public-facing programs highlighting the research underway, new technologies being developed at the Center, and the academic programs in marine technology and freshwater sciences available at NMC and MTU. “Our goal will be to educate the public about what is happening at the Center and inspire tomorrow’s workforce,” said McDonough.  

Michigan Tech

As established regional leaders in freshwater research and education, Michigan Tech will help develop marine technology and operations plans for the new center in Traverse City. Additionally, the university will collaborate on research projects, workforce development programming and professional development projects that will highlight the freshwater science and technology developed by Tech and other partners. Michigan Tech President Rick Koubek believes the new center in Traverse City is a perfect complement to the world-class work already being done by the university at its Great Lakes Research Center in Houghton and at the Michigan Tech Research Institute in Ann Arbor. 

“We are delighted to continue growing our partnership with the Greater Traverse region,” said Koubek, who was first to sign the memorandum of understanding between the five partners. “This latest MOU supports our mutual commitment to advancing research focused on the Great Lakes ecosystem.” 

Northwestern Michigan College

“NMC views the Freshwater Research & Innovation Center as an accelerator for our strategic plan goals related to the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute,” said Jason Slade, NMC vice president for strategic initiatives.

Slade noted that NMC has been active in academic programming and professional development training in all focus areas of the new collaboration, including autonomous and remote technology, freshwater and marine technologies and emerging environmental technologies.The Center will also provide experiential learning opportunities for NMC students and research projects for students in NMC’s bachelor’s degree in Marine Technology.

Traverse Connect

Traverse Connect is the lead economic development organization for the Grand Traverse region and supports business growth and development by encouraging the growth of our existing assets – healthy partner relationships, the scaling up of our existing companies – and attracting new business. 

“The development of the Freshwater Research and Innovation Center will ensure that the Grand Traverse region is well positioned to be the global epicenter for freshwater research, industry, and innovation,” said Warren Call, president and CEO of Traverse Connect. “The partnership of key educational institutions and nonprofit organizations will generate tremendous economic opportunity for our region by attracting entrepreneurs and innovators working to protect and improve the Great Lakes ecosystem.”