If the goal for a2Tech360 is to get Ann Arbor excited about its technology and innovation community, then event organizers Ann Arbor SPARK have succeeded.

Ann Arbor SPARK
Ann Arbor SPARK

One of the event’s main draws is Tech Trek, a street fair that exhibits Ann Arbor companies and the exciting technologies and innovations they’re developing. In its first year less than a half decade ago, organizers hoped for 100 attendees; they got 500.

And then last year’s Tech Trek drew more than 6,000 people to downtown Ann Arbor.

Mobility Row opens up autonomous vehicles for immersive experiences for the public.
Ann Arbor SPARK Mobility Row opens up autonomous vehicles for immersive experiences for the public.

“Tech Trek is meant to address a general awareness that there are a lot of great tech businesses in town,” says Jenn Cornell Queen, vice president of marketing and communications for Ann Arbor SPARK.

“The idea is to expose to the community, and especially job seekers, that there is an incredible density of innovative businesses right here in Ann Arbor.”

Increasingly, many of those innovative businesses are within the mobility sector. That’s why Tech Trek introduced a wing of exhibits specifically dedicated to the industry.

Tech Trek opened its Mobility Row in 2018. The extension allows festival goers the opportunity to get firsthand experiences with self-driving and connected vehicles, the same vehicles they could be riding in throughout those very same streets of Ann Arbor.

“We launched Mobility Row and Mobility Summit last year and we’re fortunate to be bringing them back this year,” says Komal Doshi, director of mobility programs for Ann Arbor SPARK.

“Mobility Row is a display of Ann Arbor-based mobility technology companies. It’s a feature that people can really interact with.”
Tech Trek is just one of several events planned for the larger a2Tech360 festival scheduled for June 2 through June 10.

Inspired by the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, a2Tech360 is designed to celebrate and grow Ann Arbor’s tech industry. Events include Student Demo Day, where local high school students showcase their own products they’ve developed; Women in Tech, an empowerment speaking engagement with industry leaders; and the FastTrack Awards, the annual celebration of local companies experiencing consistent growth.

“More and more mobility is tech dependent”

A second event is also dedicated to Ann Arbor’s mobility sector. The Mobility Summit is designed to further connect companies with each other, encouraging partnerships and fostering growth. Participants will attend speaking engagements, visit the American Center for Mobility, and enjoy a networking reception.

“We have a robust tech ecosystem here and more and more of mobility is becoming tech-dependent,” Doshi says. “As we build new technologies, more businesses are locating themselves in Ann Arbor. It puts companies in position to be close to suppliers and universities, too.”

Demonstrating Ann Arbor’s robust tech ecosystem is a critical component of a2Tech360. While there are a number of events designed for the general public, events that are meant to inspire a sense of civic pride in Ann Arbor innovation, the festival is largely a tool for talent retention.

An event like Student Demo Day allows organizers to establish a direct line to area high school students, inspiring students to follow careers in innovation while simultaneously informing them of the many opportunities for those very same careers in Ann Arbor.

The festival itself builds general awareness of Ann Arbor’s tech community and growing list of potential employers.

The message is clear: Don’t move to Silicon Valley. There is plenty of opportunity to be had right here.

“We’re here to show that Ann Arbor is a real destination for innovation,” says Cornell Queen.

“This is a long-term game. What does the talent pipeline look like ten years from now? We’re constantly working on that.”

Photos courtesy of Ann Arbor SPARK