On Friday afternoon, 70 tech companies in Ann Arbor participated in Tech Trek, an event designed to give local companies an opportunity to showcase their newest and most impressive work, organized by Ann Arbor SPARK. After receiving a wristband and a map, as well as a complimentary T-shirt, participants could explore the robust tech world of downtown Ann Arbor.
Donna Doleman, the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Ann Arbor SPARK, expressed her excitement about the third year of Tech Trek. Since the first Tech Trek in 2015, Doleman said the response and the interest has exceeded expectations, and they have more than doubled the attendance, with over 3,000 people in attendance this year.
“There are some cool companies here in Ann Arbor, companies that work with other global brands,” Doleman said. “And we thought, ‘Would people want to know that? Would people want to know what’s really hidden inside the streets?' There are 200 tech companies that employ 3,000 people in just a two mile radius.”
Liberty Street was covered in people sporting green Tech Trek shirts, but the attendees weren’t just job-seeking adults. Perhaps the most surprising demographic was the large amount of young children there, who seemed very interested in the Tech Trek.
“The target audience is general public,” Doleman said. “The event has kind of come full circle. The middle-schoolers get a chance to peek inside companies and see what work is and what a work environment would be, so when they go to college, they don’t have to strive or aspire to move out of town to find a job.”
SPARK has other events during the school year that are similar to Tech Trek, like Tech Homecoming which takes place around Thanksgiving, as well as other Tech Treks throughout the year.
Tech Trek is also an opportunity for companies to meet potential employees, and Doleman said for this reason another target audience is talent.
“Seventy companies are participating, and half of them are looking for talent," she said. "Half of them have open positions. So another target is job-seekers.”
Doleman also mentioned exhibiting the “cool factor” that future employees are looking for in an office. This sort of environment was evident in TD Ameritrade, one of the participating companies. Set up in a circle, with windows all around allowing natural light and centered around a coffee break area, TD Ameritrade exemplified the sort of working environment that was mentioned during the Tech Talk earlier on Friday.
Brianna Clodgio, an Executive Assistant at TD Ameritrade, talked about the steady expansion they have been experiencing and how she expected this expansion to continue. She attributed Ann Arbor’s status as a tech hub to the “massive student population.”
“Ann Arbor is such a great cultural city, and there are a lot of brains here too,” Clodgio said. “So I think people just tend to stay because the city is beautiful.”
Alon Yaffe, Vice President of Product Management at Barracuda Networks, shared a similar sentiment about Ann Arbor.
“I think what you see in Ann Arbor is that first of all, there are some great schools in the area, there’s good talent here, but it has this really interesting combination of Midwestern, more laidback culture, but it’s very tech savvy and there’s a lot of startup activity,” Yaffe said. “And this draws a lot of the young talent and professional talent, and this becomes almost like a cycle.”
Yaffe also shared his own company's story of expansion, saying that the Ann Arbor location started ten years ago with six people, and has now reached 230 people. Similar to Clodgio, Yaffe said they expect this growth to continue.
Both Yaffe and Clodgio said they enjoyed being a part of Tech Trek and thought it was a great way to bring the community together. At Barracuda Networks, there was a coding challenge going on in one of the rooms, where participants were hunched over trying to work out a code puzzle on a whiteboard in front of them. This was one of Yaffe’s favorite things about Tech Trek.
“I really like Tech Trek,” Yaffe said. “I mean you can see the amount of people that we get here, and the level of energy that they have. They really like to come in and talk about technology, and we always have this code challenge here, and people are going to spend 20, 30 minutes looking at this thing, which I think is really cool. You can tell people are connecting.”
Overall, Doleman said Tech Trek was also simply an opportunity to bring the Ann Arbor community together.
“We’ve seen a lot of people that just live in the community and want to learn about the companies that are here,” she said.