Ann Arbor SPARK annual meeting celebrates regional investments, reveals updated strategic plan

Ann Arbor SPARK's Annual Meeting at EMU's Student Center. (Ann Arbor SPARK)

Ann Arbor SPARK hosted its 2022 Annual Meeting on Thursday at Eastern Michigan University’s Student Center.

The program reviewed the organization’s successes from the past year including highlights from SPARK’s 2021 annual report, an overview of the SPARK 2022 strategic plan, and an award program recognizing significant projects and contributions.

Concluding the program was the keynote address by Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate for NASA.

The updated three-year strategic plan was informed by business and community leaders. It concentrates the organization’s efforts on four key pillars: acceleration, talent, growth, and community.

“The world is undergoing a sea change of how people work, where they live, and what they value,” said Paul Krutko, Ann Arbor SPARK president and CEO. “The pandemic has exacerbated economic inequalities and made progress on environmental sustainability more difficult. A strategy of smart growth in service of prosperity for all will respond to these challenges and create opportunities that will benefit our region.”

In 2021, Ann Arbor SPARK’s work continued to drive economic growth by providing startups and businesses with the resources they need to succeed, including:

  • Consulting support and funding to 317 startups that employed more than 887 people all within the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti SmartZone. Of those startups, 119 of them operate from one of SPARK’s two incubators: SPARK Central in Ann Arbor and SPARK East in Ypsilanti.
  • Location and expansion support for 20 company growth projects, generating nearly $52 million in new investment commitments while creating and retaining more than 1,800 highly skilled jobs.

During the program, Ann Arbor SPARK recognized major successes and key projects from the previous year with the board chair awards. The organization also established the Michael A. Finney Leadership Award recognizing SPARK’s inaugural chief executive officer who had a profound impact on the region’s economic development. Mike Finney, who passed away earlier this year, was well respected for his strategic approach to economic development and admired as a fair and thoughtful leader. In future years, this award will recognize leaders who, like Mike, inspire collaboration and inclusivity, and lead with dignity and grace.

Censys was named Entrepreneurial Services Company of the Year. The company specializes in comprehensive security that provides valuable coverage of internet assets from internal and external attacks and breaches. Since the company’s start in 2017, Ann Arbor SPARK has supported its growth. In 2021, Censys surpassed the 100-employee milestone and raised $35 million in capital to support its future growth.

The Project of the Year award went to the City of Brighton and the Brighton Downtown Development Authority. Ann Arbor SPARK, as part of its collaboration with the Economic Development Council of Livingston County, worked with Brighton to attract, grow, and retain Main Street businesses in the downtown area. In addition to other efforts, the team developed the Main Street Showcase mobile application to create a unified platform for marketing, advertising, promotion, and communication across the DDA area.

SPARK also honored two longtime supporters and board members, David Parsigian and Ric DeVore.

David Parsigian, partner at Honigman LLP, has been a supporter of Ann Arbor SPARK since the organization was founded. He has served on its executive committee since 2006, joined the board of directors in 2010 and served as the chair of SPARK’s board from 2018 through 2021. David has provided steady leadership through the many evolutions of SPARK’s work in the community, including the opening of the SPARK East Innovation Center, major regional expansion projects like the Toyota research park and the creation of the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run.

Ric DeVore served on Ann Arbor SPARK’s executive committee for five years, beginning in 2011, and later joined the board of directors from 2016 through 2020. Under his leadership, the PNC Foundation has been a strong partner in promoting the growth of communities by supporting Ann Arbor SPARK’s economic development initiatives. With a shared passion for maximizing job creation and growing businesses, Ric has always been an advocate for helping our communities prosper.

Ann Arbor SPARK’s annual meeting was made possible through support from sponsors, including premier sponsors Comcast Business and DTE Energy Foundation.