Entrepreneurship organization Ann Arbor SPARK hosted its first annual “Tech Talk” at the Michigan Theater Friday, celebrating entrepreneurship in the Ann Arbor community.

With over 600 attendants, the Tech Talk attracted a diverse audience of students from the University of Michigan as well as Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor residents and leaders from the Michigan community. In attendance were Toby Brzoznowski, founder of multi-millionaire company Llamasoft, and Jeanice Swift, superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools.

According to Swift, the Tech Talk plays a pivotal role in complementing out-of-the-classroom learning opportunities for students in Michigan.

“We are transforming education in Ann Arbor Public Schools, where it is all about connecting to authentic learning,” she said. “Students are doing critical thinking, problem solving, working on a team collaborating, communicating results of their projects. So this kind of learning that is separate from the world is not happening anymore. They are really learning in conjunction with real companies, which, to me, makes learning come to life.”

In addition to bringing Michigan leaders to Ann Arbor, Tech Talks also featured more than 70 Michigan companies, whose services range from neuroscience education with Backyard Brains to cyber-security providers like Duo Security.  

Ashley Vartyak, Director of Employer Brand at Duo Security, spoke about the role of the Tech Talk in strengthening and bringing together the startup community in Ann Arbor.

“I have been with a startup called Duo Security in Ann Arbor growing for the last four and a half years,” she said. “I have seen the full growth of our team now up to 500 employees, as well as the growth of other startups within the tech community. Tech Talk helps people understand you do not have to work on the coasts to be a part of a really interesting and meaningful experience, right?”

The Tech Talk gave 10 entrepreneurs the chance to present their companies and works to the whole audience in a short speech modeled after a TED talk. Following initial remarks by Donna Doleman, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Ann Arbor SPARK, guest speakers rose to the stage and spoke to the audience for about 10 minutes each. As each speaker presented, Tech Talk attendees had a chance to submit questions via an online platform for the speakers to answer.

Doleman emphasized changes to this year’s events, as well as the importance of student engagement in Tech Talks.

“Today is an open house of tech companies showcasing their innovations and what they do to the public,” she said. “This is our third year. New this year is our inaugural year of Tech Talk, where CEOs of tech companies have agreed to do a TED-style talk here at Michigan Theater. We want students to look at companies and see what it’s like, to see what it means to go to work.”

Before “walking the walk,” aspiring entrepreneurs had a chance to learn from successful leaders during the Tech Talk and to appreciate the startup scene in Ann Arbor.

LSA junior Max Albert said the talk made him recognize the growth in Ann Arbor.

“There are so many opportunities to see innovative creations here,” he said. “I think Ann Arbor is just blossoming as a tech town.”

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