Eclipse Communications pushes Venture North over $6M Mark, Expands Benzie County Broadband
The FCC estimates that 368,000 rural Michigan households lack access to fixed broadband internet, and this digital gap can leave rural communities behind. However, there’s good news coming for Benzie County residents. The county recently selected Eclipse Communications dramatically improve internet connectivity across the area. A loan from Venture North will allow Eclipse to accelerate expansion and bring internet connectivity to the far reaches of the county more quickly.
We sat down with Eclipse Communications’ founder, Christopher Varenhorst, to hear what this will mean for residents and economic growth.
What do you think set Eclipse Communications apart?
We have over ten years of comprehensive knowledge and experience developing infrastructure in areas other companies have been avoiding for nearly two decades. Our company is classified as a ‘Single Source Provider’, which means we can provide the same services others might offer in a more accountable and cost-effective format. Unlike all who have come before us, we are actually doing the work, achieving objectives, and providing high transparency to our partners with a long-term plan in place.
What will this loan allow you to accomplish?
The funds from Venture North allowed us to acquire a previous internet service provider (clientele, contracts, assets, relationships) which makes it a perfect fit for our new broadband partnership with Benzie County. We are developing permanent and scalable communications infrastructure including both “last mile” distribution and “mid-mile” transport to meet the needs of underserved consumers, commercial and enterprise market segments. We plan to create two to three new positions as a direct result of the acquisition, with 3 full-time positions and 2 part-time roles being retained.
What about fiber?
We’re positioned to develop and install fiber infrastructure, as well, but a hybrid approach is best in highly rural areas, given the grant frameworks available in the last decade. We’re creating a framework that other startups could use to accelerate the deployment of broadband infrastructure, whether as a service provider or as town administrator.
Why did you choose to go with Venture North for your funding?
We looked at more traditional funding sources initially, but the relationships Venture North had cultivated in Benzie county previously, plus their overall mission and philosophy to help rural communities was a better fit for us, versus a traditional financing relationship. Laura has been very helpful, nearby and available for whatever we needed. We watched Venture North work with Xpert Fulfillment in Benzonia during their large expansion project in 2017 and saw how well they were received in Benzie County. It made me want to do business with them.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in Benzie?
This county, topographically speaking, is a challenging area to work in. It’s largely undeveloped with hills and ridges, elevation changes, dirt roads, and a large amount of trees...all the things that make it a wonderful place to live, but difficult for companies trying to lay cables or use towers to relay signals. There’s a lack of infrastructure and power and that can get expensive. Plus, 40 percent of the houses are not filled year-round and other residents are living in or near poverty, which introduces complexity in remaining solvent and profitable while directly investing capital. Success to us means not only success as a company, but also ensuring that our infrastructure is survivable and our clients both now and later can depend on our internet services in the future. As a small but intensively-skilled and experienced company, we’re positioned to have that impact, but it means running a tight operation.
What’s most exciting as we enter 2020?
When I look back over the last 10 years of my career, both speaking for myself and vicariously in my teams involvement, it all pales in comparison to what we’re building for Benzie County. I couldn’t be more excited about the expansion and its applications to other rural areas once it’s complete. This has the potential to bolster all future development in Benzie County and Northwest Michigan as a whole. There is a tremendous amount of work to do, and we will work tirelessly with the highest level of diligence to be a good partner to Benzie County.