• Greg York

Episode 3: 20Fathoms / Rural Innovation Hub Rockstars

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

20Fathoms serves 60 members and 25 technology startup companies in Traverse City, Michigan. We met with Andy Cole, the company's Executive Director. Self-described as a "want-repreneur," Andy has an amazing talent and passion for bringing diverse skillsets together, facilitating discussions between technology and sales teams, as an example.

This post is a companion to Episode 3 of Appreciation Nation, which you can find in our archive or your favorite podcast app.

Running an incubator is an interesting challenge as the business model isn't the same as most for-profit ventures. Revenue comes primarily from grants and community supporters, not directly from customers. The incentive is actually to lower prices, not raise them. Serving the broader community is possible because people take time to celebrate success. An unusually high number of companies have 'graduated' from 20Fathoms in a short amount of time, and that deserves celebration indeed.

20Fathoms is a space for technology innovation, creation and support.

In this episode, Andy challenged us all to "make a proposal." As he has coached countless entrepreneurs, it's easy to get bogged down in back and forth emails ("here's a thought... what are your thoughts?"). Stop the madness! Don't be afraid to "be wrong" by putting a real proposal on the table. Get vulnerable for just a minute and restate yourself: "What do you think about doing [real, tangible thing]?" This leads to far more efficient and effective conversations. The corollary to this is being the kind of person who accepts others' proposals and provides thoughtful feedback and constructive guidance, not just asking a bunch of questions or shutting others down. If you're the recipient of a proposal, use it as an opportunity to find common ground and move things ahead.

Appreciation Nation Challenge (ANC) #3: Make a Proposal

The rules:

  1. Spot. Look for a situation that is developing which is already a back-and-forth volley or seems to be heading in that direction.

  2. Consider. What is a concrete, tangible action that could be proposed? Write down something specific that you could initiate, with or without immediate help from someone else.

  3. Shape. Stop for a moment and consider the action. This action should support the goals of you, your team, your company, and, ideally, the "greater good." Imagine the person you're proposing the idea and consider what the action would mean to them. You might need to change some words in your proposal.

  4. Assess. Ask yourself whether your response is really action-oriented. Make sure it's not just asking the recipient for more thoughts but is actually suggesting a specific action to take.

  5. Get Vulnerable. Understand that it's alright if the proposal isn't immediately accepted or if the response isn't what you hope for or expect. Your recipient might not be as intentional about how they respond, and they might be on automatic pilot. Hit Send anyway!

  6. Reciprocate. If you're the recipient of a concrete proposal that you don't immediately agree with, don't dismiss it immediately. Instead, consider this an opportunity to negotiate and find common ground. If necessary, briefly but kindly reiterate your position and the action you believe is warranted.

As always, please share your Challenge experience with the kula by joining the Facebook group at

Links / Mentions:

  • 20Fathoms - "The home of technology and entrepreneurship in Northern Michigan."

  • Steve Case / Rise of the Rest - Seed fund / investment that looks for companies (outside the traditional innovation centers of Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston) attacking large, traditional industries with innovative new products and services.

  • TCNewTech - Meetup community of tech enthusiasts, businesses, entrepreneurs, and Michigan policy makers building a culture of innovation, economic growth, and opportunity for local talent in the Traverse City Region. Offers participants the opportunity to practice their pitch, network and win money!

  • Brightly - Provides online user experiences and is redesigning the web experience for 20Fathoms.

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