SPARK East aims to better serve Ypsilanti through renovation, expanded funding

Having recently completed renovations on its Ypsilanti business incubator, SPARK East is also expanding its financial commitment to attracting and serving Ypsilanti businesses and residents.


The original configuration of the space at 215 W. Michigan Ave. in downtown Ypsilanti had event space up front, and incubator and work space in the back end.


"It dawned upon us that it would be much more desirable to have the companies that are coming into SPARK East every day to work be exposed to natural daylight, letting the people working there see what's happening on Michigan Avenue and people driving by the incubator see that vibrant work environment," says Bill Mayer, vice president of entrepreneurial services for SPARK.


At the designers' suggestion, an open communal kitchen area has moved closer to the front of the building as well. It's designed as a collaborative area that invites "collisions and conversations" between tenants, Mayer says.


Event space has been moved to the back of the building where there isn't any natural light, but that isn't as much of a concern for many of the public events that happen at night, Mayer says. More private conference spaces have been added, as well as two suites available for lease.


Mayer says that about two years ago, the state of Michigan gave SPARK a 15-year extension to continue its economic development work but asked for some changes. One major change was redirecting 10% of the support services budget that funds programs at the SPARK Central office in Ann Arbor for use in the Ypsilanti incubator.


"This is exciting," Mayer says. "We can do grants to innovative companies and spend dollars to do sponsorships, events, and marketing."


He says the change in the funding model "dovetails nicely with the incubator expansion."


"We now (can offer) these services of interest to our companies so we can support companies that already reside in Ypsilanti, and it also makes it a very attractive destination for a company to set up headquarters," he says.


Some of that funding has gone toward a new monthly event called Ypsi 9th Hour. The networking event is hosted by a different Ypsilanti-based company each month and gives local business people a chance to relax and connect.


"Sometimes just going to an event and having a drink and meeting people has a big impact," Mayer says. "The more connected the business community is, the more it helps the entire downtown and the city of Ypsilanti."


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy of SPARK.