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Ann Arbor Spark

March 12, 2019

Executive-in-Residence Program Helps Ann Arbor Startups Excel

At Ann Arbor SPARK, we support creative, forward-thinking regional entrepreneurs as they grow ideas into successful businesses. For companies that meet the required criteria, one available option is the SPARK Executive-in-Residence (EIR) program.

EIR connects C-level executives who have a proven record of success in early-stage companies with up-and-coming startups. For startups, the EIR program can help an organization overcome specific challenges or develop meaningful deliverables. The program also helps retain experienced leaders in the region who may be transitioning from other positions, or it provides a soft landing for C-level talent interested in relocating to Ann Arbor.

Shopwindow logo

A recent EIR success was with Shopwindow, a SPARK East Innovation Center client. When Ben Harrington, Ann Arbor SPARK entrepreneurial services associate director, identified Shopwindow as a candidate for the EIR program, he knew the right partnership would accomplish significant results.

“Early on, Shopwindow’s founder Gavin Todd spent a great deal of time attending SPARK.ed courses — workshops available to our Innovation Centers clients,” said Ben. “As he spent more time working with SPARK consultants, Gavin began to reimagine the business and pour a lot of effort into product development. Once the product was ready to take to a larger market, I recommended Shopwindow for the EIR program for the specific goal of developing a marketing and sales strategy.”

Shopwindow provides its B2B and B2C customers a toolbox of digital marketing solutions, all in a convenient single platform. When it came time to go-to-market, Gavin needed C-Suite support to help develop his sales and marketing strategies. Ted Dacko of Arbor Dakota Strategies was able to provide that direction.

“When we first launched Shopwindow, we developed the product directly in stores — working with our users and building the product to suit them. However, when it came time to pitch Shopwindow to other clients, it became a ‘feature parade’ — a phrase that Ted used frequently to describe our sales pitch. Now, we can confidently and succinctly describe our solution and our potential clients grasp the benefits immediately.”  

Blue Ocean Entrepreneurship Competition logo

While Ted’s tenure as the Shopwindow EIR concluded in 2017, the product made quite the impression on him. “While working with Shopwindow, I was impressed beyond words. The way the product creates visually attractive and personalized messaging using a combination of text messages, website messaging, and video was brilliant.” Which is why when Ted assumed the role of executive director of the Blue Ocean Student Entrepreneur Corporation (BOSE), he implemented the Shopwindow platform. “This was the most creative and effective way of recruiting participants that I had ever seen in my 45 years in the technology industry.”

Read more about the BOSE integration of Shopwindow. 

After using the EIR program to strengthen Shopwindow’s sales and marketing strategy, the company saw a dramatic 300 percent increase in year-over-year sales. Ben concludes, “These results illustrate the value of Ann Arbor SPARK and connecting experienced C-level professionals with early-stage companies.”

EIR is just one of the impactful SPARK-managed programs funded by Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA).