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Innovation Powers Economy in Ann Arbor

Companies thrive here, thanks to great investments, talent and resources.

By Kim Madlom on December 29, 2021


The Ann Arbor region is fertile ground for tech-oriented companies seeking investment, resources and talent to pursue innovation and success.

Arboretum Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm specializing in the health care sector, has invested in more than 50 companies across the Midwest – including five located just a mile from its Ann Arbor offices.

“The Ann Arbor and the Michigan innovation ecosystem is thriving,” says Tom Shehab, Arboretum managing partner. “We are seeing more companies that are founded in Michigan that are able to stay here through their life span to the time of acquisition or IPO. That’s a really positive trend.”

Arboretum Ventures focuses on investments in medical devices, life science tools and diagnostics, and tech-enabled care delivery. Founded in 2002 in Ann Arbor, its mission is to find companies that will drive costs out of the health care system, but still provide great clinical care.

“We continue to see great ideas coming out of the health care institutions, the universities and Michigan-based entrepreneurs,” Shehab says.

ArborMetrix, a health care data analytics firm, got Arboretum’s attention with its software and services to help hospitals, health plans, professional societies and patients understand, compare and improve quality and cost-efficiency.

Arboretum also invested in Esperion Therapeutics, an Ann Arbor company developing pharmaceutical products for the treatment of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

Sparking Ideas

Ann Arbor SPARK, a catalyst for economic development for more than 15 years, strives to help entrepreneurs launch products and ideas. To assist startups, SPARK leases office space at a SPARK Central Innovation Center in Ann Arbor as well as a SPARK East Innovation Center in Ypsilanti. Both incubators provide coworking areas, desk spaces and office spaces. Business leaders are available to mentor entrepreneurs and offer guidance on subjects such as attracting investment, acquiring customers and developing strategies.

Discovering Ann Arbor

Michigan leads the nation in the increase in venture funding between 2016 and 2020, and much of that growth was in companies in the Ann Arbor region. In 2020, Ann Arbor SPARK, the region’s lead economic development organization, provided assistance to 267 startups that employ more than 650 people.

The region has seen great success developing later-stage entrepreneurial companies, many that launched from incubator and accelerator programs and are now out on their own – and have chosen to stay in Ann Arbor.

AdAdapted Inc. is also a successful Ann Arbor tech startup. The company is the leading add-to-list mobile advertising and insights platform built for consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands, agencies and retailers. AdAdapted has twice appeared on Inc.’s annual list of fastest-growing private companies in the U.S.

AdAdapted’s advertising platform uses data and patented technology to understand what drives decisions about what consumers buy at the grocery store and uses that information to help clients reach their targeted audience. The technology improves consumers’ online shopping experience and helps CPG companies send effective targeted ads.


Sky High in Ann Arbor

SkySpecs, a company that provides automated wind tower blade inspections, has operations in Denmark and Ireland and customers in 26 countries. In May 2021, SkySpecs announced the acquisition of two of Europe’s premier wind energy companies: Fincovi, a leader in financial asset management, and Vertikal AI, a pioneer in predictive maintenance for wind energy. Even with its global reach, SkySpecs remains committed to Ann Arbor as its home base, says Theresa Trevor, marketing director.

Founders Danny Ellis and Tom Brady are University of Michigan robotics and aerospace engineers. Both are active in nurturing innovation and education in the region, including speaking to university and high school robotics classes.

SkySpecs began as a small team focused solely on drone inspections in the wind energy industry. Today, SkySpecs works with more than 35% of the global renewable energy companies and has revolutionized wind farm inspection.

“We were delivering top-of-the-line inspections and saw the opportunity to do more for the industry,” Trevor says. “We developed Horizon, an asset management and analytics software solution, that allows SkySpecs’ customers to look at the health of their wind turbines and gain insight into the trends within their fleet. In a nutshell, we are digitizing solutions for an industry that was mostly manual.”

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