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Posted on Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 4:57 p.m.

Ann Arbor SPARK wins $500,000 to support startup business incubators

By Nathan Bomey

(Editor's note: Executive Vice President Laurel Champion serves on Ann Arbor SPARK's executive committee.)

Economic development group Ann Arbor SPARK won a $500,000 grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to support its business incubation activity, officials announced today.

SPARK's three incubators provide physical space to high-tech startup companies in fields such as software, biotechnology and alternative energy.


Ann Arbor SPARK CEO Paul Krutko stands outside the organization's startup business incubator on Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

Angela Cesere |

MEDC today distributed $6 million in funding to 12 organizations throughout the state to support incubators — an economic development strategy aimed at giving early-stage companies a cheap boost as they're entering growth mode.

SPARK operates business incubators in downtown Ann Arbor and downtown Ypsilanti and a 57,000-square-foot business incubator in Plymouth Township. The Ypsilanti incubator, named SPARK East, will specifically benefit from the MEDC funds.

“MEDC support for Ann Arbor SPARK's East incubator extends and enhances opportunities for startups throughout the region,” SPARK CEO Paul Krutko said in an emailed statement. “Business incubators play an important role in our economy. The startups that receive assistance through SPARK East attract investment, retain talent and create jobs here in the region.  Ann Arbor SPARK business incubators provide the critical support that start-ups need to become drivers of economic success.”

The funding comes after the Michigan Legislature passed legislation in June mandating the distribution of business incubator grants to organizations throughout the state.

Other winners included Oakland County's Automation Alley ($625,000), TechTown in Detroit ($875,000), the Macomb-Oakland University Incubator ($500,000) and other operations in Lansing, Flint, Kalamazoo, the Grand Rapids area and the Upper Peninsula.

“Early-stage companies require seed capital and access to a strong network of public and private resources,” said MEDC CEO Michael Finney, SPARK's founding CEO, in a statement. “We are confident that with the funding of these organizations and the types of services they will provide, we will continue to accelerate the growth of innovative technology start-ups in Michigan.”

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.


Lets Get Real

Wed, Dec 28, 2011 : 7:44 p.m.

They do alot at SPARK with volunteers - all who want to get their foot in the door with the start-up companies that do make it so they'll get hired as consultants or in paid leadership roles. It's all that government, non-goverment thing where the palms get greased belong to the lips that kiss a--. i've watched "business consultants" advise start-ups there. I've watched SPARK start-ups fail because they were not asked the hard questions. It's "make-believe" money - "more where that came from" money. Just like the Solyndra money. High Tech, Bio Tech, LIfe Sciences - great incubators. How about some attention and help to good old fashioned main street businesses?

Kai Petainen

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 1:56 a.m.

Thanks for making the note about Laurel at the top of the article. That sort of disclosure, although we know it, is good to see. I'm not sure if I have a problem with SPARK getting the money or not, but it sure sounds like someone giving themselves money? Yay! I won money, thank you to myself. It sounds funny. And other venture capital firms should pay attention and understand how networking helped get that $$. There is so much negativity with SPARK, and I like to believe that they are a good organization, with good people and with good intentions. And so I wish they would just come out and say... hey, we did this -- here is the proof... etc. (i'm making this stuff up) we have 100 investments, $10 million, and made 1000 jobs -- i dunno... SPARK, give us something to counteract the opposing arguments. Then we could hear the other side of this lopsided debate. i'm just guessing... but $500K sounds like it could help fund 2 ($250K each) to 10 companies ($50K each)? if so... that's terrific I'm really anxious to hear the good stuff from SPARK. I really do wish the best for them, but I just wish they would stick up for themselves and give us some good news.

Patricia Lesko

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 9:50 p.m.

How many jobs were created with the $591,000 in micro-loans SPARK has already given out? According to documents released to A2Politico in response to a recent FOIA, there were NEGATIVE 6 jobs created in exchange for the $591,000 tax dollars in micro-loans. That's why the former chair of the LDFA, Stephen Rapundalo, recently stood before City Council and suggested that &quot;job creation&quot; would not be the best way to measure SPARK's effectiveness. &quot;Please find out how they account for the money they've received, or why they don't publicize that info, or why it's OK for this place to receive money from grants and not account for it. Is it because it's not federal money? And didn't I see that they DO actually get money in some way from our taxes?&quot; Gotcha covered here (<a href="," rel='nofollow'>,</a> with more to come after the holiday. Our latest feature on SPARK: &quot;Ann Arbor Politicos Dish Up Millions in Public Money &amp; Give SPARK Pals A Pass On Public Accountability&quot; (<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>.

hut hut

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 6:43 p.m.

Shame on annarbordotcom for not mentioning that their Executive VP Laurel Champion serves on the SPARK executive committee. Please include this conflict of interest in further reporting of SPARK.

Bob Needham

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 6:46 p.m.

We do routinely mention that in SPARK articles, but neglected to do so in this case. We're adding it now. Thanks for the reminder.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 6:18 p.m.

Wow, why does everyone hate SPARK so much? Theres's a lot about the &quot;incubator&quot; business model to question - for example, why do the landlords of the space that incubators use make SOOOO much money on it? Our company pays only about $3/ft for perfectly adequate start up space - have no long term lease, so nothing on the balance sheet, which is way, way less than any incubator space I've ever heard of. And, we have a great landlord. But, when SPARK gets less money than the other cows in the herd, it's hard to see why all these comments are so fixated on that. Maybe all the commenters are landlords not making any money on the deal? Persojnally, I think that MEDC/SPARK/other economic development groups should round up a group of landlords that will offer discounted space, short leases, etc. and then provide some kind of investment or micro-loan type financing to individual companies. This way, all kinds of start up businesses with all kinds of real estate requirements (yes, they do differ depending on the kind of business you are starting) could get help instead of the one size fits all approach of the conventional incubator. Just an idea guys!


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 4:44 a.m.

I for one am NOT an embittered landlord, just a concerned and engaged citizen who demands to see their tax dollars being put to good use... What do you mean by SPARK getting less money than the other &quot;cows in the herd&quot;? They seem to have been very well protected from all the budget cutting this year. Krutko, Finney, Snyder et al should certainly be intelligent enough to understand that without having their job creation &quot;numbers&quot; audited by a respected outside authority many citizens have and will continue to smell a rat. That's just the reality of the post-Enron and every other subsequent fraud scandal world in which we live. If they can't live with this level of needed scrutiny over public expenditures they need to find something else to do.

hut hut

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 6:36 p.m.

SPARK has not been held accountable to their task. They have provided no real metrics to measure their claims of job creation using taxpayer grants. SPARK's top officers are party of the executive merry go round from private to public and back to private while making connections on the public dollar. All the while enjoying large increases in pay and benefits. Beware the public/private enterprise. It's often a funnel of public money to politically connected crony capitalists.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 11:18 a.m.

I'm also requesting some kind of journalistic probe into SPARK. And I recall that the last article about them getting money had exactly the same types of requests from readers. Don't reporters LIKE finding out information when for some reason it's hard to get? Especially about gifted/granted money and refused accounting for it. Don't they have inquisitive and somewhat cynical minds? Seems like it would be a GREAT story. I do see that the Executive Vice President of is on the SPARK board of directors, though. Aren't you supposed to mention that when running a story about SPARK? NPR says when a guest works for NPR or for a place that funds/supports NPR. Please find out how they account for the money they've received, or why they don't publicize that info, or why it's OK for this place to receive money from grants and not account for it. Is it because it's not federal money? And didn't I see that they DO actually get money in some way from our taxes?

hut hut

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:54 a.m.

Alan Goldsmith at 7:44 PM on December 21, 2011 &quot;How about an investigative report into SPARK and why they refuse to release their audits to us taxpayers and why there is never any independent audit of their phony job creation numbers.&quot; &quot;I second that request. Should I just email the Freep instead?&quot; I move for a vote. Seriously So sorry. None of us got to vote for or against Snyder's crony Job Czars, MEDC and SPARK.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:50 a.m.

Would you please stop running that stock photo of Mr. Krutko alongside any story covering SPARK that you run??? I'm quite certain that everyone who cares to know who he is does so by now. If feels compelled to have a photo alongside the story pull the photo of the SPARK staff from their annual report -- they're the ones who do all the heavy lifting for which Krutko runs around taking all the credit.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 12:44 a.m.

&quot;How about an investigative report into SPARK and why they refuse to release their audits to us taxpayers and why there is never any independent audit of their phony job creation numbers.&quot; I second that request. Should I just email the Freep instead?


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 12:01 a.m.

Wasn't $500,000 the amount the Humane Society needs?


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 10:44 p.m.

More crony tax payer money down the black hole called SPARK. How about an investigative report into SPARK and why they refuse to release their audits to us taxpayers and why there is never any independent audit of their phony job creation numbers. More of the same - SPARK's old ED sends the new ED a nice gift. That we paid for and have only phony numbers to show for it. At least it isn't the $1.8 billion gift the former SPARK Governor threw at business with no strings attached. With no audited job creation numbers either. Republican math.

Kai Petainen

Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 10:42 p.m.

When the director of SPARK sits as a director at the MEDC; and a marketing person works at both MEDC and SPARK; (and there are other political connections between MEDC and SPARK) Is it correct to say that they won? 'won a $500,000 grant' Perhaps, this is more of a lesson in good networking and connections?