New Ann Arbor SPARK event series to offer free small business guidance for all industries

Ann Arbor SPARK is hosting a new, free educational series for small business owners in any industry who are interested in learning new skills and employing best practices. Each session will feature experts sharing their knowledge in areas such as finance, sales, marketing, and accounting.

The weekly Accelerating Company Excellence (ACE) events are an effort to respond to feedback that SPARK staff were hearing from business partners, such as the Michigan Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and concerns they themselves heard from local small business owners during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Through our experience administering programs, we had people say things like they couldn't apply for a round of funding in time because they missed a deadline, or they missed out on something because they couldn't find five years of income tax statements," says Jenn Cornell Queen, Ann Arbor SPARK senior vice president of marketing, communications, and events. "The concept of ACE is that maybe you've been in business a long time, but there are things you want to expand, you've been putting off, or that you want to do better, and here is your chance to optimize."

She adds that feedback from SPARK's partners was a significant factor in launching the series and pulling together the learning content.

"When the SBDC says they've answered the same question for 10 different people in the same week, like how to do better customer discovery or break into a new market, we think about getting answers out there so that business owners can succeed," Queen says.

The first ACE event will be held on Aug. 17, with a small business funding roundtable featuring Alex Dishman of Michigan Women Forward, Sean Gray of the Small Business Administration, Rita Hillman of the SBDC, and LaShonda Golden of Fifth Third Bank

Queen says she's particularly excited about the quality of the series' speakers. She points to renowned Ann Arbor businessman Ted Dacko, who has been tapped to share his knowledge with ACE attendees. 

"We are going to bring in the folks that we know, and who have the chops and the expertise," Queen says. 

She adds that ACE attendees don't have to attend every weekly meeting. Similarly, a monthly event, dubbed ACE After Hours, doesn't require previous attendance at other ACE sessions. During ACE After Hours, participants will begin by networking for an allotted time. Following an expert panel presentation is a second networking opportunity. Attendees will have a chance to  ask questions that they might not feel comfortable asking in a group setting and get some one-on-one expert support. 

"As a former business owner, I feel that we all know the things that we could be doing better, or the things that keep us up at night because we're worried about missing an opportunity," Queen says. "ACE is a great chance to work on those things and optimize your business." 

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