Jennifer Owens, Ann Arbor Spark’s vice president for business development, is charged with overseeing the organization’s efforts to attract and retain new businesses to the Ann Arbor region. Last week, Owens was on a mission trip to California, meeting with companies with interests in Ann Arbor, companies that are looking for a high tech community to expand or locate as well as with University of Michigan graduates who have started a business on the west coast. We asked her to share her experiences with GLITR’s readers. Today, here’s her latest installment.

I want to go back to “Google land” where the toilet seats are heated and you are never more than 150 feet from food. My California journey is done and I am now back on eastern standard time. The last day of the trip was a perfect ending to a marvelous journey.

I toured the world headquarters of Google and got to see all wonderful amenities that make Google such a top-class place for people to work. Although the perks are terrific, I was most impressed by the fact that every Friday the company holds an all staff meeting with no true agenda. Staff members are allowed to ask the senior leadership team members, including U-M alum and Google co-founder Larry Page, whatever burning questions are in their mind.  Nothing is off-limits and I hear that the conversation can often get heated.  The openness of the company is clear with shared offices and impromptu coffee meetings going on throughout the building. 

My next meeting was with another technology leader, Barracuda Networks.  The company opened their Ann Arbor offices just a few years ago and has grown to more 90 employees.  The CEO, Dean Drako, is also a UM alum and felt the region would be perfect to support his company’s Campbell, California headquarters.  The Ann Arbor office and the company as a whole continue to thrive. He is planning a trip to Michigan next week where he hopes to encourage potential customers in the state to look at Barracuda’s cutting-edge products.

The finale of the trip was our Ann Arbor Spark-sponsored Michigan alumni reception.  We welcomed more than 100 California residents who have a Michigan connection.  UM Professor David Brophy made it clear in his remarks that entrepreneurship was alive and well at the university and in the region.   Quantum Signal COO and co-founder Mitch Rohde stole the show by sharing his company’s evolution from UM spin out to a profitable and growing venture.  Rohde, whose company is moving into a new HQ that was a former Saline schools administrative building said, “I went from the guy in high school who was getting wedgies in the gym, to owning the gym.”  Former Heisman Trophy Winner Charles Woodson and now TwentyFour Wines owner remarked on the growth the region has seen since he went to school here.  The overriding message from everyone attending was a willingness to give back to the region and a hope that the communication would continue to flow. 

So after traveling nearly 3,000 miles and seeing 10 different cities, my California voyage has come to an end.  I cannot wait to go back and reach out to the dynamic companies and talent who are interested in continuing their Michigan connection.

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  1. skeptical taxpayer says:

    And I’m looking forward to seeing if any of the money spent on this bureaucratic tourist junket has any measurable effect, or if this is just another example of SPARK lighting money on fire.