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Ann Arbor SPARK Ignites Sustainability Conversation at SXSW’s Midwest House

March 21, 2024 Regional Updates

Amidst the innovative flurry of South by Southwest (SXSW) 2024, Midwest House again emerged as a beacon of inspiration and provided an entertaining home base for entrepreneurs from Michigan and beyond. Monday’s Michigan Day festivities at Midwest House provided a vibrant display of dialogue, music, innovation, and direction-setting for the future of sustainability and technology.

Michigan Day’s Dynamic Programming

Michigan Day, a cornerstone of the Midwest House experience, saw an impressive turnout that exceeded expectations. The day was a testament to the spirit of Michigan, attracting over 1,500 attendees and receiving over 2,500 RSVPs, indicative of the burgeoning interest in the region’s technological and sustainability expertise. The buzz and engagement throughout the event were palpable, with 150 partner organizations from across twelve states and five countries converging to share insights and forge new partnerships.

Midwest House, which took over Half Step on Rainey Street once again, was a vibrant tapestry of diverse voices. During the four-day period, over 100 speakers — with more than 70% being women, nonbinary, or people of color — took the stage, each bringing their unique perspectives. This was a loud affirmation of Midwest House’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity, serving as a mirror to the rich cultural landscape of the Midwest itself.

Michigan Day was not just about discussions and panels; it also provided a cultural touchstone for attendees, with the Detroit-style pizza becoming a gastronomic symbol of the region’s heritage. Lt. Governor Gilchrist’s fireside chat with musical legend Juan Atkins and entrepreneur Dre Wallace added an additional layer of community and creativity to the day.

Green Horizons: Nurturing Sustainable Innovation

The “Green Horizons: Nurturing Sustainable Innovation” panel was moderated by SPARK’s own Margarita Hernandez. The panelists brought a thoughtful mix of perspectives across the green technology spectrum. Missy Stults from the City of Ann Arbor, Heidi Poscher of Dynamic Energy Group, RRS consultant Yahang Zhang, and Praveena Ramaswami of EAVX shared a wealth of knowledge on integrating sustainable practices into the growth models of businesses large and small. Their discussion didn’t shy away from the complexities of this integration, addressing everything from the latest technological advancements to the socio-economic impacts of green initiatives. 

Watch SPARK’s presentation here.

The Launch of the Green Business Challenge

The Green Business Challenge (GBC) announcement by Missy Stults, City of Ann Arbor Sustainability and​​ Innovations Director, was a seminal moment, spotlighting Ann Arbor’s dedication to crafting a sustainable business landscape. The GBC, a joint effort between Ann Arbor’s Office of Sustainability and Innovations (OSI) and Ann Arbor SPARK, is designed to be a beacon for local businesses, providing a roadmap for them to underscore their commitment to sustainability, receive technical support in achieving their commitments, and recognizing them for their work. The initiative promises to be a vehicle for change, offering tools, guidance, and recognition for businesses ready to step up their green game. 

Sign up to stay informed about the GBC activities and opportunities here.

The SXSW experience underscored the transformative power of technology and sustainability working in concert, with Midwest House serving as a pivotal platform for change-makers from Michigan and beyond. Complete with recycled hemp hats embroidered with SPARK’s logo, a popular item at Midwest House – this year’s Michigan Day event was a collective stride towards a greener, more technologically integrated future.

Learnings at SXSW

Beyond Michigan Day, SXSW as a whole was a treasure trove of technological revelations:

  • Geothermal Energy: SXSW put the spotlight on geothermal energy, framing it as a sleeping giant in the clean energy field. Startups like Sage Geosystems illustrated the potential seismic shift this resource could represent.
  • Electric Grid and EVs: The dialogue around electric vehicles and the grid’s capacity to handle them raised important points about the evolution of energy infrastructure and the imperative for cross-sector collaboration.
  • Generative AI: A beacon of optimism, generative AI was discussed not as a disruptor but as a collaborator, amplifying human creativity and freeing up time for more impactful work.
  • Mobility: Mobility sessions tackled everything from the practicalities of aerial mobility to the strategizing behind electric vehicle infrastructure. Waymo’s cautious and considerate approach offered a case study in technological deployment.
  • Quantum Sensors and Sustainable Living: Cutting-edge discussions on sensor technology were juxtaposed with practical insights into sustainable living, highlighting initiatives like Austin’s smart housing projects.
  • Climate Tech and Energy Transition: The event underscored a collaborative ethos, showcasing how public-private partnerships can accelerate sustainable energy projects like geothermal.

As the doors of Midwest House closed on another successful SXSW, it was clear that Michigan, with Ann Arbor as its innovative heart, had firmly established itself as an essential voice in the global dialogue on innovation, entrepreneurship, and sustainability. 

The conversations and initiatives championed in Austin this year, particularly the Green Business Challenge, emphasized the Ann Arbor region’s commitment to forging a path where economic growth and environmental stewardship go hand in hand.