Annual open house for 70 Ann Arbor tech businesses adds TED-style "Tech Talks"

Ann Arbor SPARK will host its third annual Tech Trek open house event for Ann Arbor tech businesses on June 16, adding a new TED Talks-style "Tech Talk" component this year.


Tech Trek participants can visit more than 70 Ann Arbor technology businesses and learn about each company's products or services. Visitors start at one of three locations, where they receive a map to all participating businesses.


Christina York is the CEO and owner of SpellBound, an augmented-reality mobile app that makes the illustrations in children's books come to animated, 3-D life. She says she has enjoyed seeing how the Tech Trek program has grown and changed since the beginning.


"At the very first one, we expected a few people to come by and talk to us," York says. "We were blown away that something like 800 people came through that first year. We were so busy we couldn't leave our table."


York says people may feel intimidated when they hear "augmented reality company," but their imaginations are sparked once they see what SpellBound can do.


"We put a three-by-four foot mat on the floor, and people can point their mobile device at it," York says. "(Mobile devices will display) a three-foot elephant and a six-foot tree, and people can get snapshots taken of them posing with it. It was fun to see adults acting like little kids."


York says the open-house setting of Tech Trek allows for one-on-one personal conversation, but it's hard to go deep. Participating companies asked SPARK if they could have more time to explain their products, services, and missions, and thus Tech Talk was born.


York, one of 10 presenters who will give seven-minute talks about their technology, will talk about how SpellBound technology can help with "therapeutic play."


She says she hopes the Tech Talk portion of the program will allow participants to get a sense of Ann Arbor's entire tech scene, from brand-new startups to well-established movers and shakers.


The other Tech Talk presenters are Emily Drier, Ann Arbor chapter leader of Girl Develop It; Greg Gage, co-founder and CEO of Backyard Brains; James Goebel, founding partner of Menlo Innovations; Lon Lowen, senior director of engineering operations at Arbor Networks; Daniel Moore, technical service engineer at Universal Robots; Jon Oberheide, co-founder and CTO of Duo Security; Andrew Sardone, vice president of engineering at Nutshell; Chris Schneider, senior vice president of engineering at LLamasoft; and Alon Yaffe, vice president of product management and data protection at Barracuda Networks.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at
Christina York photo courtesy of Christina York.
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