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Updated 12:15 PM June 6, 2005
 

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U-M lends a SPARK to A2 development

U-M has pledged up to $1 million over five years to support a group of entrepreneurial, university, business, government and community leaders who have banded together to form SPARK—an economic development and marketing organization for the greater Ann Arbor region.

SPARK's goal is to double the number of technology companies and triple technology jobs in the region by 2010, making the greater Ann Arbor region a hub of entrepreneurial energy and a great place to work, live and create or grow a business. SPARK is aimed at high-tech companies built on innovation. That includes biotech, information tech, small tech, energy, advanced manufacturing and security.

Organizers say the idea for SPARK has caught fire. In less than six months it has garnered commitments of more than $2 million toward a $3 million, 3-year operating goal, and has additional informal pledges exceeding this funding target.

President Mary Sue Coleman has said the University will pledge up to $1 million over five years, beginning with a three-year pledge to total $600,000. If the effort shows progress, the University would continue funding at the same rate for at least two more years. Coleman will lead a community-wide celebration of the launch of SPARK May 26 in downtown Ann Arbor.

SPARK's staff of professionals will offer five primary services to new and emerging high-tech businesses and organizations: business acceleration, business outreach, talent development, early-stage funding, and regional marketing and events. SPARK will assist and leverage existing organizations to deliver these services with quality, highly effective resources.

The impetus for SPARK grew out of a discussion held last year by U-M's Tech Transfer National Advisory Board. The board members advised Coleman that for the University's tech transfer efforts to reach full potential, the greater Ann Arbor region needed to become a more fertile ground for innovation and business creation, with a matching reputation to attract additional talent and resources.

"We decided to establish this region's national identity as a hot spot for innovation and entrepreneurial energy and the development of technology talent," Coleman says. "I'm delighted at the progress we have made since we launched this project in November, originally as 'Ann Arbor TechCentral.' Now, with our new name, Ann Arbor SPARK, an impressive set of collaborative partners and an exciting mission, we have accelerated our path to innovation and success."

U-M and applied research at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) have put the area on the map and are seen as the source of the ideas and people that will drive the 21st century economy, says Rick Snyder, chief executive officer and founder of Ardesta LLC, a portfolio of small technology companies. "SPARK will enhance our business environment to enable people to bring their ideas to market, build new enterprises and create jobs here in Michigan," he says.

SPARK's stakeholders are a public-private mix of the region's universities, businesses, state and local governments, and entrepreneurial membership organizations. Private foundations have provided additional funding to the 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

"The universities are the engines of innovation that will move this new economy forward," says Fawwaz Ulaby, U-M vice president for research. "But we want to do more to help those innovations thrive locally. We sense that there is currently an overflow of breakthrough research at U-M and EMU that has not been fully exploited by the region's existing entrepreneurial business environment."

SPARK will be headquartered in downtown Ann Arbor at 330 E. Liberty, the ground floor of which is being renamed SPARK Central. Technology organizations such as the Ann Arbor IT Zone, MichBio and U-M TechStart will join SPARK staff in the office and networking space, which also houses several entrepreneurial programs. The public launch of SPARK will be held at 4 p.m. May 26 at SPARK Central.

For more information or to register for the May 26 event, contact info@annarborspark.org or view the Web site at http://www.annarborspark.org.

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