From food to footwear to virtual reality, no two companies are the same at 20Fathoms in Traverse City.

When the doors opened at 20Fathoms last year, Andy Cole figured the number of members and companies would grow. But not like this. “We’ve got 45 members, 20 startups and some corporate partners,” says the executive director of the Traverse City tech incubator.

Asked what surprises him most, Cole points to the diversity of businesses the incubator has attracted. “I thought we’d get some sense of clusters. Maybe a bunch of drones or ag tech.”

Instead, “We’ve got 20 companies and not any two that are similar. It shows how deep the world of tech is.”

Andy Cole

Deep and diverse. Among the many companies now calling 20Fathoms home are Electric Forge, delivering industrial scale cryptocurrency mining products to large scale renewable energy producers; iHunt, a mobile app for hunting that provides game calls, optimal hunting times and locations; Starboard Solutions Corp, a supply chain and logistics optimization platform; Avrio Footwear, creating shoes engineered to break down when discarded leaving zero waste; and Bee Free Honee, offering a honey alternative made from plants.

All told, there are now more than 40 members utilizing the workspace. “We now have members representing tech innovations in arenas such as outer space, virtual reality, biomaterials, wearable devices, food, health insurance, cryptocurrency, software, IT, education, mobile applications, environmental sampling, precision machining, supply chain logistics, renewable energy, and many others. They are all super dynamic and great stories,” Cole says.

Bee Free Honee Co-Owner Melissa Elms collaborating with intern Olivia Nielson

One of those stories is Mango Languages. The company is based in metro Detroit where four friends first got together, pooling their talents and interest in technology. Initially, the team formed a web development company to create websites, but the quartet also shared an interest in languages. One of the companies they were working with was creating audio cassettes for learning foreign languages. They saw that utilizing technology could push the concept further.

So they sold the development company’s assets and went all in on Mango Languages. The company works primarily with libraries and is looking to move further into schools and colleges. Today there are some 70 employees, all but one of them still in Farmington Hills.

The exception is Mike Goulas, who was vacationing in Traverse City when he met and fell in love with a local. Since he could work remotely, he moved north.

Goulas is encouraged by what he sees in Northern Michigan and believes the company could expand in this area. “Traverse City has amazing tech talent and great artists, graphics and design,” he says.

Greg Terrell is also a believer in 20Fathoms. Which makes sense, because he’s spent the past few years as a member of a tech incubator in East Lansing. “I joined 20Fathoms in October. I’ve moved the official address to 20Fathoms,” he says.

Terrell’s company, LooUQ, provides foundation technology (both hardware and software) for the Internet of Things—connecting everything from cell phones to home appliances to vehicles through the internet. He is a Cadillac native who had spent many years in East Lansing, along with St. Thomas and the Florida Keys, before deciding to move. His company’s market is international, and he chose to be closer to his parents, who now live in the Traverse City area.

“20Fathoms has been so welcoming, above and beyond what I was used to,” Terrell says. “I’m eager to get up here (permanently). Networking with others has been outstanding.”

Goulas agrees. Like Terrell, he lauds the welcoming and networking opportunities, as well as the workplace’s technology, including broadband and large monitors, and the flexibility it offers. “The space is inspiring. My productivity is accelerated when I’m there.”

Cole, 20Fathom’s executive director, says he expects the growth to continue, even if similar companies seek space. “If there are two T-shirt shops in Traverse City, that’s competition. These guys are targeting national or global markets. The pie is bigger. Being together wouldn’t be a problem.”

In fact, Cole says that would be a positive. “We want to raise awareness, get the word out how incredible the talent is. We want to get to 100 members by the end of the year.”

Cool Companies in Northern Michigan

Photo(s) by 20Fathoms