Get an inside look at Ann Arbor's many tech companies as a2Tech360 returns

You might not know that there's a video game developer behind your favorite bar or a virtual reality company above your favorite store. But Ann Arbor SPARK's annual a2Tech360 event, taking place Oct. 1-8 this year, aims to change that. 

Now in its fourth year, the week-long series of events is a celebration of Ann Arbor’s spirit of innovation in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Most of the events are free and will be held at various locations throughout the city. Participants can attend in-person or virtually, and the lineup has been curated to appeal to a wide variety of audiences including entrepreneurs, investors, businesses, nonprofits, job seekers, and the general public. 

"At SPARK we see wonderful businesses and people, some who are known globally and nationally, but often the everyday person can be walking around town and not be aware of them," says Jenn Cornell Queen, Ann Arbor SPARK senior vice president of marketing, communications, and events. "We're exposing the community to businesses that are being successful and are creating jobs and investing in our community, and saying that we all should celebrate them."

Setting the tone for the week is the FastTrack Awards (honoring fast-growing "gazelle" companies) on Oct. 1 from 7 to 9 p.m at the University of Michigan Golf Course. Another highlight is the Michigan Angel Summit on Oct. 4 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sheraton Ann Arbor Hotel. This event is for people considering angel investing, as well as those who have been longtime investors. 

Also notable is a Women In Tech event on Oct. 7 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at The Circ Bar. Attendees will get firsthand insight from speakers who will candidly share their knowledge and experiences navigating their careers.  

The week will end on Oct. 8 with Tech Talk at the Michigan Theatre from 10 a.m. to noon. These powerful and insightful TED Talk-style presentations will include personal stories from industry leaders, insight into innovative product designs, and origin stories.  

"Everyone should have Tech Talk on their radars because it's inspiring and entertaining for families and for people of all ages," Cornell Queen says. "Even I always feel like I need a week to just unpack all of the incredible information I learn."
 
Also happening that day is A2 Tech Trek (the event from which a2Tech360 was originally born) and a complementary event called Mobility Row. In the past, the popular offering was held in-person and provided opportunities for participants to step foot inside local high-tech companies. This year, however, COVID-19 safety concerns prompted Ann Arbor SPARK staff to present the event as more of an outdoor street fair. They'll be closing Liberty Street between Division and Fourth streets, where they'll host over 80 mobility and high tech companies.

"Tech Trek is a wonderful opportunity to connect with people and learn about their companies. The Mobility Row piece of it is really cool, too, because you'll get to interact with autonomous vehicles, shuttles, drones, and all of these crazy inventions," Cornell Queen says. "You're going to leave just really having your mind blown at the variety, the depth, and just the ultimate coolness of what's going on with businesses here."

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.