This profile is part of Destination Ann Arbor’s Great Minds Think a Lot series, highlighting influential leaders in Washtenaw County who make a positive impact within our community.
Jenn Cornell Queen – Ann Arbor SPARK’s VP of Marketing and Communications and a driving force behind a2Tech360 – has long been one of Tree Town’s movers and shakers; yet surprisingly, she only became an official resident two years ago.
“Yeah, that’s it,” said Jenn, who grew up in Belleville, and had made Tecumseh her home for years before moving to Ann Arbor. “But I started working here twenty years ago, when I got my first agency job.”
Jenn worked for seven years at that first PR firm, after graduating from Alma College; then, in 2007, she launched her own agency (Jenn Cornell PR Consulting) specializing in tech companies. (Yes, Google was among her first clients, in a moment when the company was preparing to open its Ann Arbor office.)
“Ann Arbor is such a cool town,” said Jenn of her choice to build her career here. “I was never going to get bored. One of the great things about being a consultant is you can pick and choose clients – but you can’t really pick a bad one in Ann Arbor. There are start-ups, there are more established businesses – the diverse range of work made me want to keep doing it. … [People in the local tech community] are always so excited and happy to talk about why they do what they do, and that enthusiasm is infectious.”
But wait. There’s more.
Jenn is also a marathoner; a certified CrossFit, kettlebell, and weightlifting coach (so she’s worked as a personal trainer along the way, too); a mother of four (ages 5-17); and in 2008, she co-founded the CrossFit gym Joust Strength & Fitness.
“I sold it five years ago, but for a while, I had a consulting business and a gym,” said Jenn. “… It still exists, and it’s actually profitable, which is something you can’t say about a lot of gyms out there.” It’s all the more impressive that Joust endured when you think about how little-known CrossFit was in 2008.
“People were like, ‘You’re opening a gym with no treadmills?’” said Jenn. “My parents thought I was crazy. Everyone was saying, ‘No one’s going to come to this gym.’ And I knew I was challenging perceptions – a woman owning a weightlifting gym. But I knew it would work. I knew I could do it and create a space where people of all different fitness levels could come and get started. Because people don’t like to put themselves in a vulnerable position and go to an uncomfortable place. It’s not fun to be not good at something, so I wanted to create a safe space for someone to pick up a barbell for the first time. We did that, and I’m really proud of that.”
Jenn’s also proud of a2Tech360, a nine-day program of events that celebrates and showcases local tech innovators and companies. 2018 marked the event’s debut, but it drew on, integrating previously successful programs like Tech Trek (wherein the public was invited into local companies’ workspaces by way of a tour) and Tech Talks (modeled on TED Talks). Though locals are well-represented among the attendees, last year, people came from 30 states to catch a glimpse at what’s happening here in Ann Arbor.
“What we’re really trying to do with a2Tech360 is produce a great opportunity to come to Ann Arbor and see what’s happening here, and realize that we’re now a hub for innovation in Michigan,” said Jenn.
One of the things that satisfies Jenn most about her work is the fact that it creates jobs and investment locally. “When KLA-Tencor created 500 jobs in our community, I knew that meant 500 people who’d be shopping downtown, and eating in our restaurants,” said Jenn. “There’s this economic ripple effect.”
Plus, a2Tech360 helps make visible what otherwise can’t be seen – both to locals and visitors. “So many people would say things like, ‘I didn’t know Expedia and Nokia had offices in Ann Arbor,’” said Jenn. “Or Accenture. But you know, that’s because it’s upstairs from Which Wich. Or because this other tech company has its offices above Arbor Brewing. … This was the nugget that grew into a2Tech360, and I’m so proud of our team. It takes a lot of effort to put on that big of an event. And the fact that it’s growing speaks to the fact that it’s well-produced, and people like going to the programs.”
While Jenn is an inspiration to many, the locals she admires include Vinology owner Vinny Jonna (“In terms of thinking about his team, his staff, and about the experience he wants customers to have, he’s just incredibly thoughtful as a business owner,” Jenn said) and those involved in the local nonprofit community (“These are people who could be making more money doing other things, but instead, they’re making sure people have housing and food,” said Jenn).
“And I absolutely love Festifools,” said Jenn. “I hadn’t experienced FoolMoon until I moved to Ann Arbor. My husband introduced me to it, and now he makes one every year, and the kids got into it, so now we do it as a family. … It’s like a family date night out, and it brings together the community and the arts in an accessible way. It’s not like the experience of going to a museum and standing and looking at art. It really speaks to what’s so cool in Ann Arbor. … You have to think a little like an engineer to make (a luminary) and think like an artist to make it cool.”
As for Jenn’s favorite local hangouts, there’s Bandemer Park, where she loves to run (and where she and her husband had their first date); and her favored list of eateries, which includes Aventura, Vinology, Knight’s, and anyplace that sells tacos. “It’s kind of a joke in my office,” said Jenn. “I love tacos. I’m probably the only person who’s ever ordered ninety-seven dollars’ worth of tacos.”
Jenn often finds that with so many great restaurants to choose from in Ann Arbor, she and her husband end up planning a kind of date-night progressive. “We were saying, maybe we could go for appetizers here, and dinner there, and cocktails at this other place,” said Jenn. “That’s a pretty awesome problem to have.”
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