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Posted on Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor SPARK joins new Southeast Michigan business development push

By Paula Gardner

Ann Arbor SPARK will join three other regional economic development efforts in Southeast Michigan to speed and support business development.

The creation of the Business Accelerator Network of Southeast Michigan, to be announced today in Warren, comes as a result of a three-year, $3 million grant from the New Economy Initiative For Southeast Michigan.

Ann Arbor SPARK joins Automation Alley in Oakland County; the Macomb-Oakland University INCubator; and TechTown in Detroit in the collaboration.

“We’ll learn from each other, partner and … do everything we can to create a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem throughout Southeast Michigan,” said Michael Finney, CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK.

SPARK’s role will be to extend the business acceleration services it already provides, including mentoring, funding and coaching.

“We provide a comprehensive portfolio of services to a company that gives them a higher probability of success,” Finney said.

However, funding those services can become a geographic concern, he added.

In Ann Arbor, designated funds from the city help underwrite the costs for businesses in the municipality.

Yet businesses from outside the city - like Ypsilanti and Pittsfield Township - don’t have a designated financing stream coming into SPARK for that specific support.

This new effort will let SPARK broaden its geographic base for the acceleration services, as it builds connections to the other regional agencies that provide the services, too. The result, Finney said, should expand opportunities for promising new businesses.

Each of the four regional groups getting the funding will share in the award and decide how to spend its share. SPARK plans to hire one staff member with its funding, likely to support the work of vice president Skip Simms to connect entrepreneurs to needed resources.

The new effort complements Finney’s advocacy of “open-source economic development,” which encourages statewide business attraction instead of pitting various Michigan communities against each other.

Establishing stronger working ties with other economic development groups in the new business accelerator collaboration will help further the work done by SPARK and its reach in the state, Finney said.

“I’m sure we’ll learn a lot from our peers, and our peers will learn a lot from us,” said Finney. “We hope it’s to the benefit of entrepreneurs who are desperately looking for help in these economic times.”

According to a news release, the new network will announce innovative projects and programsover the coming months. Officials also will seek opportunities to attract new funding.

The New Economy Initiative was started in 2008 after 10 foundations donated a total of $100 million to accelerate Metro Detroit’s shift from manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy. The effort is on an 8-year timeline.

SPARK had an annual operating budget of about $5.2 million in 2009, and it employs 17. It also manages about $5.6 million in investment funds, including the state Economic Development Corp.’s Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund.

Paula Gardner is Business News Director of Contact her at 734-623-2586 or by email. Sign up for the weekly Business Review newsletter, distributed every Thursday, here.



Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 11:32 a.m.

5 things that are still missing: 1. Get East Lansing and West Michigan business incubators/accelerators involved as well. 2. Grow the partnership with the 3 medical schools in the state - UofM, MSU, WSU along with Oakland University and Western Michigan (in the future), so that medical/pharma startups have talent and expertise across specialties to consult. 3. Grow partnerships with the regional hospitals for product/medical device/drug testing for startups. 4. Construct a shared database network of angel investors for this. 5. Better partner and integrate to feed the startups with labor and get more students involved thinking of joining or starting their own startups. I am really excited about this and do hope that it fulfills its potential.

Paula Gardner

Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 8:07 a.m.

It's actually not an acronym. When the group started, it decided to capitalize that part of its name.

Jimmy McNulty

Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 6:09 a.m.

What does the acronym SPARK mean? Some Pretty Astute Readers may Know, but I am not one of them. Please share.