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David Ruud pictureFrom the Chair

Since SPARK’s inception, our role provides an opportunity to hear what’s on the minds of community leaders – Where are the opportunities? What are the challenges? How can we better collaborate and partner? Where do businesses and job seekers need day-to-day and long-term support?

As Ann Arbor SPARK began refreshing its strategic plan this year, those questions were at the heart of the process. Partners from the private, public, and academic sectors worked collaboratively with our staff and board leadership to determine the needs of our community and define SPARK’s role in driving and supporting the region’s success.

Throughout our conversations, themes emerged around sustainability, equity, and inclusion. We revised our strategic plan to support these areas while building on our strengths. Our plan reflects our expanded role in supporting our downtown areas— for instance, helping Main Street businesses in Brighton improve their reach, sales, and marketing—while driving sustainability and equity within our communities.

The process affirmed recent SPARK initiatives that propel us on this journey. Last year, we launched a DEI series to help startups grow with a focus on inclusivity. SPARK also worked with federal and state partners to secure grants for high-speed internet in the eastern part of Washtenaw County. We continue to be a strong partner for the city’s A2Zero initiative that focuses on innovation to achieve carbon neutrality.

As the region’s needs and priorities evolve, we recognize we have a uniquely strong foundation to support the emerging priorities. We can build on what already makes Ann Arbor a destination for innovators, creatives, and change-makers that ties our community together and positions us for collective success.

At SPARK, our focus remains on innovation. Our strategic plan guides us toward advancing sustainability and equity for our region and helps drive the economic growth that will allow us to achieve it. This differentiates and inspires us, and we look forward to continuing our progress this year, together.

Ruud Signature
David Ruud

Paul Krutko pictureFrom the President and CEO

Without a doubt during my tenure as SPARK’s CEO, the last two years have been the most difficult, but also among the most impactful. Our exceptional team was asked to deploy critical resources for our community when and where it was needed most, and we have grown both our service offerings and events. While modifying and expanding elements of our work, we maintained support for entrepreneurs and continued to attract growing businesses to the region. Our work continues to result in new opportunities for investments, jobs, partnerships, and collaborations in the Ann Arbor region.

In this year’s annual report, we have chosen to specifically tell the stories of companies that were once small startups in our SPARK Innovation Centers that have been able to attract incredible amounts of investment funding illustrating how an idea can scale to tens and hundreds of jobs. The report also highlights initiatives like the A2GO autonomous shuttle in downtown Ann Arbor that involved a coalition of partners working together to demonstrate how new technologies can have a positive social impact on the broader community.

During this past year, we also completed an update to our strategic plan. The staff and our board recognize that the changes wrought by the pandemic require us to be nimble and responsive with our programming to make sure we continue to have the maximum impact. This means building on our strengths and working to fill new gaps that have emerged so that our region’s growing prosperity continues and is shared more broadly with all our residents. During today’s meeting, we will be sharing the updated plan’s vision for sustained economic growth that enables our community to have the resources to meet our aspirations for environmental sustainability and equity across Washtenaw and Livingston counties.

I am proud that Ann Arbor is held in esteem by our peer areas of innovation around the world. We are a model of how the right support at the right time can help startups thrive. We are a living lab where new technologies are not only nurtured but proven. We successfully blend world-class amenities with growing businesses across a range of industries in our downtown areas to create a thriving ecosystem. For all our challenges, we have been able to continuously create ample opportunities for prosperity.

We are happy to meet with all of you at today’s annual meeting luncheon again in person and share our collective success and hopes for the future. Economic development is a team sport. Without the financial support and organizational commitment of stakeholders and partners like you we could not do this important work. Thank you.

Krutko Signature
Paul Krutko

2021 SPARK Success statistics

2021 Michigan Angel Fund Success statistics

  • 2016–21 Results:
  • 163company growth projects creating:
  • $690.3million in new investment commitments
  • 5,239announced jobs
  • 784startups assisted, 534 received intensive services and have employed 3,278 FTE
  • 25pre-seed investments awarded to 23 companies ($159K/company avg)
  • 154companies posted with 842 jobs that were viewed 36.5K+ times
  • 234incubator tenants nurtured and 154 incubator graduates
  • LDFA Accomplishments FY 2016–21:
  • 475companies served
  • 977jobs created
  • 154incubator graduates
  • $6.69million in grants to startups
  • $786.7million 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.

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a2TECH360 stats

Ann Arbor SPARK’s a2TECH360 is a week of events celebrating Ann Arbor’s spirit of innovation through experiences, conversations, and connections that strengthen and expand the region’s vibrant ecosystem. The events are tailored to a variety of interests and audiences, including entrepreneurs, researchers, investors, businesses, academic institutions, non-profits, job seekers, and the general public.

Our Tech Homecoming event connects talented professionals with Ann Arbor and its vibrant tech ecosystem, which has produced hundreds of startups and billions in enterprise value in the past five years.

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Tech Homecoming stats

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We are what entrepreneurs need to hit the ground running.

Entrepreneurial Company logos and funding raised
Ann Arbor SPARK launched a new Inclusive Workplace Series that provides free training and guidance to growing companies who want to incorporate various aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion as they grow and develop their business.

The SPARK East Innovation Center hummed with activity in 2021, including several exciting successes for startup companies.

Mountain Pass logoMountain Pass Solutions, a human capital management firm founded in 2013, optimizes complex hiring, performance evaluation, and personnel management workflows. Fueling its incredible 140 percent growth last year was several new, high-visibility clients and funding from InvestDetroit. Mountain Pass Solutions, a University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships spinout, has been a client of SPARK East since 2014.

Throdle logoThrodle, a digital platform for car enthusiasts and automotive businesses, secured first-round seed funding that included investment from SPARKcapital, Gibbs City Investments, and Pathfinders Partners. Ensuring its continued growth, the Best of Boot Camp winners also established marquee auto industry partners for marketing and co-promotion.

LoanSense logoLoanSense, whose technology reduces student loan payments so borrowers can save money for a home, won $50,000 at the information technology competition of Invest360 and an additional $50,000 from People’s Choice award.

A2GO carA2GO logo
Embracing Ann Arbor as a living lab for advancing innovations, May Mobility, SPARK, and Mcity launched A2GO, a new autonomous vehicle shuttle service. The shuttles operate using self-driving technology and connect destinations all around the city. A2GO also includes a test of !important Safety’s technology that helps predict accidents between pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and vehicles, to trigger brakes before a collision occurs. Another of the project’s partners was 4M, Ann Arbor’s first co-living townhomes that offer coworking and mobility solutions to their members. The project data will help 4M plan upcoming real estate projects and developments.

SPARK knows how to help startups achieve milestones, when companies should consider a pivot, and how they can move forward to opportunities.

Navitas and Homepoint picturesWorkit Health continues its phenomenal growth, investing $14.8 million and creating up to 530 high-skill, high-paying jobs over five years. The company also raised $118 million last year.

Nexient which currently employs nearly 500 people, expanded its footprint again — this time purchasing a facility in Scio Township. Nexient will invest $12.45 million in renovations and create 100 new jobs at its new location.

Navitas Systems is located in Pittsfield Township, with a 48,000-square-foot R&D, engineering, and manufacturing center, and a 100,0000-square-foot lithium battery systems manufacturing center. To accommodate its continued growth, Navitas announced it will invest $3.36 million to expand in Scio Township where it will house its commercial battery manufacturing, additional engineering resources, office space, and 100+ new employees.

Homepoint, which located its headquarters in Ann Arbor in 2018, has quickly grown into the third-largest wholesale mortgage lender in the country. Due to its continued rapid growth, the company is investing $3.7 million to add an operations center in Ann Arbor and create 155 new jobs.

Navitas, Homepoint, Workit Health and Nexient logos

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Last year, SPARK worked with the U.S. Economic Development Administration to secure a $2.4 million broadband grant to add nearly 20 miles of underground fiber optic cable that will connect downtown Ann Arbor and downtown Ypsilanti. The Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Corridor Fiber Optic Backbone project, matched by $600,000 in local funding, aims to create public broadband infrastructure that tech companies, the cities, and businesses can utilize for innovative products, affordable and reliable broadband, and company location.

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Web Content, Public Relations, Social Media, & Events

Ann Arbor area national rankingsOur work helps attract high tech companies and knowledge workers, fueling economic growth and prosperity.

Thanks to the LDFA, Ann Arbor SPARK’s marketing team provides direct services to startups. These services — which would normally be cost-prohibitive to early stage companies — include branding, website development, social media strategy, public relations, and other promotional materials. In 2021, the dedicated entrepreneurial marketing team delivered 275+ engagements with 57 of the startup companies working with SPARK.

Business owners asked for more opportunities to deepen their expertise on specific skills, so we launched a new educational series, Accelerating Company Excellence (ACE). ACE helps small business owners learn from experts in finance, sales, marketing, and accounting. SPARK hosted 13 ACE events in its inaugural year of the program.

Through speaking opportunities and product demos, Ann Arbor was once again represented on a global stage at SXSW, which was back in-person this year. With support from LDFA and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, we were able to showcase stand-out companies from our region, including Fly Money Games, ImagineChat!, May Mobility, Reaction Technologies, and Refraction AI.
2021 marketing statistics

SPARK Services At-A-Glance

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 selfie collage


From left to right:
Laura Berarducci, Joshua Thompson, Margarita Hernandez, Marcia Gebarowski, Erin Wiley, Kailee Moretto, Liz Perpich, Kayla Oderah, Ben Ernst, Phil Santer, Kirsten Lyman, Alison Beatty, Jennifer Olmstead, Nick Joblonski, Alex West, Denise Murray, Kristine Nash-Wong, Tami Salisbury, Bill Mayer, Skip Simms, Carly Toaz, Lisa Bies, Charlotte Dillard, Lauren DeVries, Mike Flanagan, Johnathon Crace, Melissa Sheldon, Lindsay Thomas, Jenn Queen, Vicki Joling, Komal Doshi, Paul Krutko

Livingston County 2011–2021

Celebrating 10 Years of Partnership, Positive Impact

The City of Brighton and the Brighton Downtown Development Authority partnered with Ann Arbor SPARK to attract, grow, and retain Main Street businesses in the downtown area. Most notably, the team developed the Main Street Showcase mobile app to create a unified platform for marketing, advertising, promotion, and communication across the DDA area.

Since 2015, FT Techno of America (FTTA) has operated an automotive vehicle evaluation center on proving grounds spanning approximately 950 acres in Handy Township. In 2021, FTTA invested in an expansion, constructing a 1.4 mile handling course, as well as an area of special surfaces for evaluating vehicle ride comfort, noise, harshness, and vibration.

A joint effort between SPARK and the Greater Area Brighton Chamber of Commerce, the Manufacturing Collaborative is a group of nine employers that meet regularly to share data and ideas to create a pipeline of talent for critical jobs in the county. Last year, the program expanded when Brighton-based Work Skills Corporation created a curriculum using virtual reality and computer-based online training methods to expedite workforce training for skilled trades positions.

2021 Livingston County statistics
Partner logos


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PRIVATE SECTOR (under $25,000)

$25,000+ Private Sector Donor Logos

PRIVATE SECTOR (under $25,000)

Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors

Arboretum Ventures

Bodman PLC

Butzel Long Attorneys and Counselors

Chelsea State Bank

Comerica Bank

Consumer’s Energy Foundation


Domino’s Farms Corporation

Fifth Third Bank

Ford Motor Company

GDI Infotech, Inc.

Honigman LLP

IBM Watson Health

IMRA America, Inc.

ITC Michigan

Menlo Innovations LLC

NSF International

Old National Bank

Oxford Companies


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