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Ann Arbor Spark

March 8, 2021

Unemployed During the Pandemic, Ann Arbor Mobility Worker Transitions to New Role in Vibrant Startup Ecosystem

Ann Arbor, Michigan has one of the highest startup densities in the Midwest and is a thriving, tight-knit community that champions businesses and careers. When Andrew Israel found himself job searching during the COVID-19 global pandemic, he knew that Ann Arbor SPARK was a resource he could turn to while seeking his next opportunity.

Born in Virginia, Andrew has lived in more than a dozen different states, including Washington, D.C. Now, after living in Michigan for nearly 10 years, he considers it home. In 2011, the family landed in Ann Arbor, relocating from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Andrew immediately became a commuter, which was foreign to him, after taking a job in Allen Park. “I was on the road a lot which was very different from my time in Santa Fe where I was able to walk or bike to work. In Michigan, I quickly got into this commuting role. Combined with living in a new community with a newborn, I didn’t have much time to familiarize myself with Ann Arbor’s downtown area.”

 In late 2017, Andrew said good-bye to the commute when he accepted a new opportunity with Voxel51, an early stage startup that was also an Ann Arbor SPARK client. “That was when I first became familiar with SPARK. We would come into SPARK Central for events or to use a floating desk and got to know other startups working there as well as SPARK team members. It was then that I started to explore Ann Arbor’s downtown and it was great! I could walk, bike, or take the bus into work which was a big deal for us at Voxel and I think a valuable quality for other startups as well.”

Finding himself out of work in mid-2020, due to the pandemic-induced economic slowdown, Andrew once again was looking for new opportunities. “Fortunately, there was some contract work related to my past intellectual property and patent experience that helped bridge the gap.” While it took a few months, Andrew was closely following openings posted in the Ann Arbor SPARK Job Portal when he found a unique posting from a Brazilian company looking to expand into the U.S. market and needed a product engineer to help install their inspection system in some U.S. facilities.

Autaza, headquartered about an hour from Sao Paulo, is a mobility company specializing in using computer vision and AI to improve quality assurance outcomes for the automotive industry, specifically in the area of defect detection. In 2019, Autaza opened its first U.S. subsidiary in Ann Arbor, using space at the SPARK Central Innovation Center as a soft landing.

According to Komal Doshi, Ann Arbor SPARK’s director of mobility programs, “Andrew reached out and told me he was interested in the role. I mentioned to the Autaza team that he had experience in the mobility space and to look for his application.”

Andrew says, “Mobility is near and dear to my heart. There’s a real energy here in Ann Arbor and throughout the region for promoting a diversity of mobility options.”

The Autaza team recently moved its physical location from SPARK’s Ann Arbor location to the SPARK East Innovation Center in Ypsilanti. “We needed more space to set up our lab equipment. It’s a great location, with lots of nearby restaurants and shops. I look forward to when I can get out and explore it all.”