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Ann Arbor SPARK's fourth floor takes start-ups to the next level

Sight Machine
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Ann Arbor SPARK Central Innovation Center’s fourth floor opened its doors last fall as an accelerator space designed for more mature start-ups. The fourth floor offers flexible lease options for an all-inclusive space with conference rooms, breakout rooms and collaboration areas.

Now, less than a year later, the incubator is home to 14 tech companies. Among those are Neurable and Sight Machine, two start-ups that have successfully tapped into the valuable resources and networks that SPARK Central Innovation Center’s fourth floor can provide.

Neurable, an artificial intelligence system that enables 3-D control of software and devices through brain activity in real time, came to the fourth floor after participating in the SPARK Entrepreneur Boot Camp and connecting with Travis Linderman, SPARK’s director of operation for entrepreneurial services.
 
“SPARK offered more than generous terms to help us succeed, including space for us to develop our virtual reality studio where we pioneer the next generation of VR technology and applications,” says Neurable President and CEO Ramses Alcaide. “But more than anything, it was the friendly and supportive atmosphere made up by all the other start-ups at SPARK. We knew the robustness of the team and space, so it was a pretty easy decision for us.”

Neurable’s technology itself was developed during ann Arbor native Alcaide’s PhD program with the University of Michigan at the Direct Brain Interface Laboratory.
 
Neurable’s Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) represents the next leap in human-computer interaction, with its prototype enabling people to play games, operate toys and even drive a full-sized car using only their thoughts.
 
“The quality of the companies that we’ve attracted to the SPARK Central Innovation Center is tremendous,” says Linderman. “There’s a lot of energy and activity from day to day, and entrepreneurs from different companies are able to interact very closely.”

“Being in the same space as people who are as eager and driven to push their companies is really inspiring,” says Alcaide. “Plus, it’s incredibly helpful to have companies surrounding you that have done or are going through what we are, lending us support and advice.”

Originating in Livonia, Sight Machine is a software company that has developed a big data platform for manufacturing analytics. The company was already interested in moving to the Ann Arbor entrepreneurial scene, making the move after being introduced to SPARK through a local investor.
 
“As a software company, we feel like Ann Arbor is the best location in the region for us. There are a number of other successful venture-backed software companies and a growing ecosystem of talent, investment and entrepreneurism,” says Nathan Oostendorp, co-founder and chief technology officer at Sight Machine. “SPARK was extremely helpful by helping us get set up in its great central location quickly and on flexible terms.”
 
SPARK has also worked to introduce Sight Machine to other local companies and assisted it in getting connected with the community in Ann Arbor, creating an ideal environment for growth.
 
With the addition of the fourth floor, SPARK Central Innovation Center has evolved into the epicenter of Ann Arbor’s tech community. It attracts and nurtures entrepreneurs, companies and investors, and a community of those who are committed to creating and growing businesses in Ann Arbor.

The space can also serve as a soft landing for larger companies that are evaluating Ann Arbor as a headquarters location. Additionally, venture capital firms and law firms are welcome to use space as they serve different start-ups in the Ann Arbor entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“The network SPARK has is incredible,” says Alcaide. “Some of our most important meetings and contacts have come from people serendipitously passing through SPARK.”

Entrepreneurs are able to network often within the space, whether it’s through a weekly pancake and waffle breakfast in the office or attending any of the six different monthly meet-ups hosted at SPARK, covering topics from predictive analytics to machine learning to natural language processing (NLP).

“Many of our meet-ups are heavily attended by a coveted group of developers, coders and data scientists, which has really helped SPARK attract companies that may not have known we’re here,” says Linderman.

It’s an exciting time to be a start-up on SPARK Central Innovation Center’s fourth floor. Right now, most of the fourth floor companies have a major focus on data science, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Offering an open, flexible floor plan to accommodate a 10-20 person start-up’s changing needs, the space is truly designed to help them past that early stage to continue to grow.

Ann Arbor SPARK continues to evolve its space and services for entrepreneurs to accommodate the rapidly changing needs of those emerging businesses in the city. By becoming a hub for innovation, SPARK is ensuring that Ann Arbor’s reputation as Start-up City continues to grow.
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