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ANN ARBOR SPARK 2020 Annual Report

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David Parsigian picturefrom the chair

The work of economic development is not inherently exciting. The process of taking a concept from idea to market, expanding a business from 30 to 100 employees, or bringing a game-changing business to our region is often slow and imperceptible. It requires connecting all the dots, engaging everyone who can help, and never missing a detail. As a public-private-academic partnership, Ann Arbor SPARK has always fostered the collaborative and innovative culture necessary to this process. But never has that culture been more important to our region than during this past year.

COVID forced us all to adapt to unprecedented realities. We learned how to work and learn remotely, to use new tools, and to find new ways to connect with and support each other and those we serve. SPARK was no different. In collaboration with both long-standing and new partners, Ann Arbor SPARK nimbly adapted to help the small businesses hit so hard by the pandemic.

SPARK quickly expanded its traditional focus of helping build new business and serving established ones to also become the hub for multiple resources that kept every element of our local economy moving forward. Those resources included public funding that SPARK worked to secure for our region, as well as private funding sources that looked to SPARK to ensure it was thoughtfully distributed to do the most good. SPARK created the processes and marshalled the knowledge needed to provide critically needed funding to the restaurants, childcare providers, retailers and so many others critical to the fabric of our community. But SPARK also continued to do the work it’s always done to be sure that when COVID is finally behind us, no momentum has been lost.

Since its inception, part of SPARK’s mission has been to ensure the Ann Arbor region is “recognized for our academic, business, and community resources, and our collaborative culture.” I am proud of the leadership and staff at SPARK who proved this past year how important that culture is to the health of our local economy and how it positively impacts the people who make our community so special.

Parsigian Signature
David N. Parsigian

Paul Krutko picturefrom the president and CEO

This past year presented the world with unprecedented challenges. It also provided opportunities to extend our reach to help wherever we could. For the team at SPARK, it meant doing what we always do — thinking entrepreneurially to fill gaps in our regional economic ecosystem and saying, “Yes we can,” when asked to help. This year, this meant expanding our mission to help small local businesses most impacted by the effects of COVID-induced closures.

In 2020, SPARK re-doubled efforts to assess our partners’ needs and also identify those who could help. Two examples of this work immediately come to mind:

  • Federal, state, and local dollars were made available through various grant opportunities, and SPARK developed new systems to rapidly disperse those funds.
  • SPARK proactively engaged partners to address business owners’ questions relative to navigating the challenges presented by COVID.

In this annual report, you will read the results of our efforts to support the region’s economic vitality, including delivering an expanded a2Tech360 virtually with more partners and a growing national audience, and examples of new initiatives developed in direct response to the pandemic. You will also read how our mission-centric work continued and delivered — against the odds — economic benefit to our region:

  • We supported 50 newly formed startups and provided direct support to an additional 267 existing early-stage companies.
  • The Michigan Angel Fund invested $7.2 million in startups, and its portfolio companies have attracted more than 44 times that amount in matching investment.
  • Our business development team’s efforts resulted in $80.8 million in investment and 544 job commitments in our region.

While it may have been an unprecedented year, what resulted was unparalleled collaboration amongst business and community leaders. We experienced a powerful reminder of the impact we can have by coming together to help one another. These are the real successes that are the foundation for our future growth, and the entire team at Ann Arbor SPARK is proud to be part of that work.

Krutko Signature
Paul Krutko



At the onset of COVID-19, Ann Arbor SPARK quickly mobilized and directly served businesses in Washtenaw and Livingston counties by working with partners to deploy critical funding.

community funds administered graphic

SPARK 2020 Success stats



Managed by Ann Arbor SPARK, MAF is the largest angel organization in Michigan. It invests in very early stage companies across the state that are not yet primed for venture and other sources of capital.

Michigan Angel Fund Impact stats

  • 2015–2020 RESULTS:
  • 181company growth projects creating:
  • $768.9million in new investment commitments
  • 5,165announced jobs
  • 732startups assisted, 526 received intensive services and have employed 2,636 FTE
  • 9pre-seed investments awarded to 8 companies ($199k/company avg)
  • 1,607companies assisted with 6,266 job postings
  • 220incubator tenants nurtured and 153 incubator graduates
  • $61.2million community investments leveraged through federal and state grants, foundations, and other sources
  • 428companies served
  • 979jobs created
  • 137incubator graduates
  • $5.96million in grants to startups
  • $828.9million private equity raised

Part of what makes our services possible is funding provided by The Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti SmartZone LDFA, which provides capital to commercialize technologies developed locally. LDFA grows these companies in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, funded by the State of Michigan.

Partner pictures

Partnership & Collaboration title

Ann Arbor region rankings


Last year, 48 interns were connected with 24 companies through SPARK’s internship program with EASTERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY’S Digital Summer Clinic. The interns accelerated the startups’ marketing efforts while gaining valuable work experience. Since 2016, 84 percent of the student interns who went through the program remained in Michigan post-graduation.

Five UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN students were matched with four companies in SPARK’s new internship program for alternative reality, virtual reality, and experiential reality companies. The students experienced the complex dynamics of startup life and were exposed to the growth of AR/VR/XR opportunities in our region.

WASHTENAW COMMUNITY COLLEGE worked closely with SPARK to connect soon-to-be graduates with growing companies. WCC recruited students to Tech Trek’s Student Trek as well as Tech Homecoming. Also, with SPARK’s support, WCC was awarded a $10 million grant to create new robotics, automation, cybersecurity, and mobility programs.


Located on the third floor of SPARK Central, RXA — an advanced analytics and artificial intelligence company — established Weave Workforce LLC, its first studio company. RXA also expanded its team through the acquisition of Salt Lake City-based Yapa Group.

In 2020, SPARK Central graduate SkySpecs raised a $17 million Series C and fellow graduate AdAdapted raised a $2 million Series A round. Early-stage startup PocketNest, a current SPARK Central client, attracted $750,000 in capital.

Expanding on the footprint it established in the region in 2017, Wacker Chemical broke ground on its new $51 million research and product development center in Pittsfield Township. SPARK worked with the company, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Pittsfield Township on the project.


In partnership with the Michigan Small Business Development Center, Ann Arbor SPARK provided $50,000 business accelerator grants to Bedestrian, Esperovax, and Orange Grove Bio to further development of innovative technologies in response to COVID.

Ann Arbor SPARK administered the Pittsfield Township Small Business Grant program, which awarded $50,000 to 20 businesses experiencing COVID-related financial hardship. The funding provided $2,500 grants to small businesses. SPARK convened a grant application review committee and managed the distribution of funding.

Ann Arbor SPARK, the City of Brighton, and the Brighton Downtown Development Authority teamed up to use a federal grant to create the Main Street Showcase, a new community mobile app that connects visitors and residents to the city’s restaurants, retailers, and service establishments.


Entrepreneurial Services

  • Affordable office space for startups
  • Entrepreneur Boot Camp
  • Expert counsel to entrepreneurs
  • Access to funding opportunities
  • Educational & networking events

Business Development

  • Local business expansion
  • Business attraction
  • Business introductions & referrals
  • Site search and selection
  • Incentive support
  • Talent services


  • Promoting company successes
  • Amplifying visibility of the best & brightest
  • Supporting the needs of startups
  • Publicizing the region to a global audience

SPARK TEAM (left to right)

Alex West, Bill Mayer, Charlotte Dillard, Liz Perpich, Komal Doshi, Marcia Gebarowski, Nick Joblonski, Anne Partington, Laura Berarducci, Joshua Thompson, Angela Flood, Lisa Bies, Phil Santer, Vicki Joling, Kayla Hill, Erin Wiley, Kirsten Lyman, Jennifer Olmstead, Margarita Hernandez, Kristine Nash-Wong, Carly Toaz, Mike Flanagan, Jenn Queen, Lindsay Thomas, Alison Beatty, Denise Murray, Skip Simms, Lauren DeVries

SPARK Team picture


a2TECH360 logo
  • 5,827Total Virtual Registrations
  • 15Total Events
  • 9SPARK-hosted Events
  • 5Partner Events
  • 9Tech Talk Speakers
  • 2New Treks — Student & Job Seeker
  • 77KWebsite Visits
  • 3.2M+Social Media Views
  • 140KCampaign Emails
  • 250Student Registrants
  • 200+Job Seeker Registrants
  • 5K+Map Tour Views
  • 4.5K+Video Tour Views (to-date)
  • 165+Hours Watched (to-date)
  • 62Participating Companies
  • 19FastTrack Award Recipients
a2TECH360 program tiles

pivoting to serve

social media views increased by 300%

Our virtual a2Tech360 exceeded our expectations on every level. Delivering content online extended the reach of SPARK and our partners’ programming outside of the Ann Arbor region, including attendees from 37 states and 25 countries — the most diverse attendance in the program’s history. We were able to attract speakers from a broader geography and present their expertise to our audience. The SPARK team is looking forward to leveraging this experience for future a2Tech360 programs and continue to grow on this year’s success.

image of online zoom meeting

While continuing to offer our key educational programs such as Entrepreneur Boot Camp and SPARK.ed, Ann Arbor SPARK worked with private sector partners to deliver specific, on-demand expertise to the business community. In response to COVID-19, we adapted our programming to include two new educational tracks: SPARK.lead and SPARK.pivot. These new learning opportunities were focused on topics such as diversity and inclusion, fundraising in a pandemic, and legal considerations in the face of volatile economic conditions.


2020 Budget Total graphic

CURRENT FUNDERS as of December 2020

PRIVATE SECTOR (under $25,000)

$25,000+ Private Sector Donor Logos

PRIVATE SECTOR (under $25,000)

Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors

Arboretum Ventures

Barracuda Networks, Inc.

Bodman PLC

Butzel Long Attorneys and Counselors

Chelsea State Bank

Citizens Bank

Comerica Bank

Consumer’s Energy Foundation

Domino’s Farms Corporation

Fifth Third Bank

Ford Motor Company

GDI Infotech, Inc.

Honigman LLP

Huntington Technology Finance

IBM Watson Health

IMRA America, Inc.

ITC Michigan


Menlo Innovations LLC

NSF International

Old National Bank

Oxford Companies

Plante Moran, PLLC

Ranger Power


Reinhart Realtors

Rudolph Libbe Group

SI Company

Thomson Reuters

University of Michigan Credit Union


Eastern Michigan University

University of Michigan

Washtenaw Community College


Ann Arbor Charter Township

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority

Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti Local Development Finance Authority

City of Ann Arbor

City of Brighton

City of Chelsea

City of Dexter

City of Saline

City of Ypsilanti

EDC of Livingston County

Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Michigan SBDC

Michigan Works! Southeast

Pittsfield Township

Scio Township

Washtenaw County

Ypsilanti Township


Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

William Davidson Foundation


Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation

Jenkins Foundation

New Economy Initiative

Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

TCF Bank

The Song Foundation

DTE Energy Foundation

Pittsfield Township

Chemical Bank


Livingston County Community Foundation

Consumers Energy Foundation