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Sparking Community: How Navitas Brings The Team Together in Ann Arbor

December 5, 2023 Startup Ecosystem
By Lauren Zyber, Purpose Jobs

Ann Arbor has been rapidly growing as a top emerging tech hub over the past few years, but its tech roots go back even further than you might expect. 

One tech company, founded in Ann Arbor by professors and alums from the University of Michigan, started in the mid 90s, and has been evolving ever since. 

Navitas, which began as a small research company, is building advanced materials for battery cells and capacitors. While Navitas has had its own winding journey as a company, some of those core folks from the beginning are still part of the company today. 

In 2021, East Penn Manufacturing Co. acquired Navitas and the company has continued to grow in Ann Arbor. As the demand for battery-operated vehicles and machinery only continues to grow, Navitas is helping fuel the revolution.

At the Navitas facilities in Ann Arbor, the team conducts research, design, development, and manufacturing of advanced lithium cells and energy storage products and systems for both commercial customers and U.S. Government/military customers. Their focus is especially on industrial machinery and equipment, like forklift trucks.

Being based in Ann Arbor comes with some major advantages. Only about 40 miles from Detroit and its historic — and growing — prowess for automobile manufacturing (much of which is moving to electric vehicles now), Navitas is a part of a vibrant tech community working on today’s biggest innovations in electrification. 

“We develop unique and customized solutions. While we’re not particularly targeted to the automotive industry, we certainly benefit from the industry being so present in Southeast Michigan,” says Craig Allman, Sr. Director of Product Development and Engineering. “We swim in that sea and interact on that level. A lot is shared with the automotive industry without directly competing with it.”

Navitas at Ann Arbor SPARK’s Tech Trek

Growing A Top Culture And Team In Ann Arbor

With just under 200 employees, Navitas has benefited from building its team in Ann Arbor. As a growing tech hub, the city is home to a top pool of engineering talent. Navitas has benefited from hiring interns not just from the University of Michigan but from schools all around the Great Lakes region. 

“Ann Arbor is a great place to spend a summer, or any semester, working for a technology company. We work with interns year over year to prepare them for a full-time job at Navitas,” says Craig. “And we definitely invite our interns to explore the community and the career opportunities around Ann Arbor.”

As a part of East Penn, Navitas enjoys being a part of the greater company’s long-standing excellent company culture.

“Building a great culture is a big priority for us,” says Todd Seney, HR Generalist at Navitas. “East Penn is ranked as a top place to work in Pennsylvania, and we want to continue that legacy here.”

One of the ways they do that is by celebrating a different East Penn value each month. In September, that value was “innovation,” and the team celebrated it in a big way. 

Team building at Tech Trek

In September, the Navitas team all got together to celebrate innovation at this year’s Tech Trek,  an a2Tech360 event from Ann Arbor SPARK. It’s become an annual event for the Navitas team to participate in, and this year was extra exciting because it gave the entire engineering team an opportunity to connect and explore the tech community in Ann Arbor.  

With some help from the folks in the creative department, the Navitas engineering team (including its interns) built a whole innovation competition around Tech Trek.

Photo courtesy of Navitas

They divided into four teams of four to five people. Each team surveyed all the booths at Tech Trek, interacted with the companies, collected swag, and the goal was to come up with a combined company or product. The teams then had to present their pitches to a panel of judges from the Navitas team, who used a scoring rubric to determine the best pitch. The team with the most innovative, creative, relevant idea won a prize. 

“It was a really great event for a lot of reasons,” says Pete Mills, Principal Software Engineer at Navitas. “You had to get out there and interface with other companies operating in Ann Arbor. And we got to collaborate on teams with people we might not normally spend time with.”

Todd says that getting outside of the office, bonding with teammates, and interacting with people you normally wouldn’t encounter can be amazing for innovation. “You can think about problems in a new way, get outside of your comfort zone, and think through problems more creatively,” he says.

Not only did the event strengthen ties within Navitas, but it also helped connect the team with the greater community in Ann Arbor. The team got to learn more about the innovations happening right in their own town, and think about technology in new ways. 

“It is easy in Ann Arbor to successfully leverage your technical interests in social conversations in bars and coffee shops around town,” says Pete. “It’s not just technical though. Ann Arbor is a community in which there are many ways to belong.”

If you’re interested in getting more involved in the Ann Arbor tech community, check out these resources: