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Ann Arbor Spark

June 25, 2019

Momentum is building in Michigan: What a2Tech360 Teaches about the Current State of Tech and Ann Arbor

We are a couple of weeks out from a2Tech360 — a weeklong dive into tech, startups, innovation, and more. Now in its second year, this series of events in June has become a chance for Ann Arbor to step back, celebrate what we have in our backyard related to new tech, and focus on what’s next and how we can continue to drive technology forward. Looking back, it’s clear that there is momentum around the area, in tech and beyond.

a2Tech360 also serves as an opportunity to showcase what Ann Arbor is all about. On Thursday, during the Mobility Summit, I had an opportunity to show a few journalists around town on a modified Tech Trek of sorts.  We made several stops throughout downtown that included discussing Duo’s growth, seeing the company list at Cahoots, chatting about why Lear is in town, and getting a quick rundown on Menlo Innovations’ dual programming process. Halfway through our trek, one of the coast-based journalists remarked that people in Michigan are nice, like “real” nice — a theme that came up later in the week as well.

The basic idea of kindness continued to surface throughout the week as it became apparent that many of these tech companies are accessible and friendly in a truly authentic way. That authenticity started with Intermitten, perhaps the most real “tech” conference I’ve been to. Starting with a song from Hamilton (not kidding), through truly “fireside” chats with Dug Song on providing equity to all employees and real dialogue on what diversity and inclusion are about, it was great to have Intermitten as the kickoff for a2Tech360 and it was great to have everyone back at The Ark.

The rest of the week was a blur, but here are just some of the things that happened in and outside of a2Tech360:

We welcomed a few thousand of our closest friends to downtown Ann Arbor for A2 Tech Trek and Tech Talk, including students from Ann Arbor Public Schools, and people from 15 different countries and 31 states.

Tech Talk was held in the beautiful historic Michigan Theater and showcased TED-style talks from 13 leading innovators in their respective fields. Following Tech Talk, many attendees headed to Mobility Row which hosted an assemblage of mobility-related companies outside on Washington Street. As the afternoon wore on, Tech Trek began with more than a hundred companies opening their doors to showcase themselves and their offices to the public. The streets of Ann Arbor flooded with activity as thousands of observers moved from stop to stop, experiencing and learning more about all of the exciting tech companies that call Ann Arbor home.

Google announced a $17 million expansion in Michigan, including new space in Ann Arbor and Detroit. This expansion will add a total of 90,000 additional square feet to Google’s existing space in Michigan.

We recognized 14 fast-growth companies that have had 3+ years of 20% (or more!) growth. LLamasoft was recognized for the 12th consecutive year.

14 teams competed in a 24-hour Hackathon at Netscout, with a focus on how to improve our community. The winning app could easily detect what was recyclable, compostable, or trash-worthy. The second place app interfaced on what parking garages were available, in real time, so you know where parking will be available in downtown Ann Arbor.

KLA had a ribbon cutting at their new office in Ann Arbor — the first step as the company builds out a larger campus in town. Rick Wallace, KLA’s CEO, said that this was the biggest site decision the company has made in 20 years. As they grow their physical space, KLA is also in the process of hiring many new people and hope their newly updated space will aid in attracting new talent.

Clinc announced a $52 million raise in a Series B, with around $60 million raised to-date (more to come on our podcast featuring Mike Laurenzano, Clinc’s CTO, recorded during Tech Trek). With this new funding, Clinc plans to grow to 140 employees by the end of 2019. While Clinc has opened offices in Europe, Asia, and several other states, they plan to stay true to the Midwest and expand management in Ann Arbor into a new 26,000 sq ft office.

This year saw another successful run of Entrepreneur Boot Camp which connects accepted early-stage companies with one-on-one help from seasoned entrepreneurs, angel investors, and business executives. Nickels, a company that works to develop a better way to manage student debt, won the best of Boot Camp. Nickels was sponsored through Boot Camp by Lake Trust Credit Union.

A new addition this year to a2Tech360 was Tech on the Edge which was created to celebrate the incredible diversity of technologies, innovation, and talent we have outside city limits. The inaugural run of this event included a couple of hundred observers checking out nearly 40 companies at MI-HQ, Ann Arbor’s life science co-working space. 

An added bonus is that a2Tech360 leads up to Detroit Startup Week, which took place last week, and is another great showcase of the startup and tech community that is brewing around metro Detroit. This provides even more hands-on tech exploration for those eager for more after a2Tech360 wraps up.

When it was all said and done, we were left with a feeling of momentum around the growth and excitement around what’s happening in Michigan — as well as a sense of the work that needs to be done across the state to ensure that we have a chance to participate in a path to prosperity. We’re looking forward to what’s next.

Check out more photos from a2Tech360!

Contributed by Phil Santer, Ann Arbor SPARK senior vice president. Special thanks to Ann Arbor SPARK summer intern, Alex Hughes, for his work on this retrospective.