Those attending ACE’15 last month were the first to see it. NEF has a new brand identity and is proudly showing it off.

Let’s back up a little. Early in 2014 the NEF Board of Directors created a new marketing committee and nominated Board member Jane DeLancey, DeLancey Design, as chair. The Committee’s mission was to develop a new brand identity. Committee content lead, Elizabeth Sikkenga, Crisp Strategy, describes the need best, “When NEF started out 29 years ago, there weren’t many other organizations doing anything similar, but the field has grown hugely since then. It’s much harder now to get your message across, especially to busy entrepreneurs, so NEF’s branding really matters.”

For a starting point, the committee reviewed the in-depth third party survey NEF conducted in 2013 of current and former members, stakeholders, companies that we coached and others in the entrepreneurial community. Results of this survey were a major driving force for the formation of the committee and the decision to rebrand NEF’s identity.

Using a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, Sikkenga then led the committee through a brand discovery designed to discover how NEF could best differentiate itself from other local organizations that offer services to entrepreneurs. The results of this analysis served as a foundation for developing NEF’s new brand identity.

One of the outcomes was to define key characteristics and the brand promise. Key characteristics include: respect, helpfulness, generosity, community and education; our coaches have credibility and experience. The brand promise is, “We interact with the business community to everyone’s benefit: coaches, coachees, investors, and other stakeholders. Each interaction with NEF will lead to new ideas, improvements to existing presentations, and new contacts and networks in the entrepreneurial community.”

At the completion of this process, a Creative Brief, approved by the Board last October, was created as a guide for developing the visual brand. Q Ltd., Ann Arbor, was engaged to create the logo. Q Ltd was outstanding in delivering a great new logo that came with new Identity Guidelines defining colors, fonts, placement of tagline, etc.

At Q Ltd’s suggestion the Committee agreed to also have them jazz up our 29-year-old tagline. Of half a dozen presented by Q, “Coaching. Perfecting. Connecting” was the unanimous choice.

With a shiny new logo and jazzy tagline in hand the Committee set about implementing the new brand. An 8’ tall banner, a new tabletop banner, brochure, business cards, name badges were created; the website was completely overhauled to show off the new brand—all in time for unveiling at ACE’15.

After almost a year of strategizing, reviewing, planning, agonizing and debating there are many folks to thank. Committee members would likely agree with Elizabeth, "One of my favorite branding strategy projects ever! It was such an honor—and so much fun!—to help NEF refine and shape their brand.”

It’s a long list and we want to be sure each person gets their proper credit so here goes:

Marketing Committee:

Jane DeLancey, DeLancey Design; chair

Elizabeth Sikkenga, Crisp Strategies; content lead

Members from the NEF Board of Directors:

Helen Ewing, Ewing Group

Francis Glorie, Glorie Associates

William McPherson, McPherson Commercial Capital

Gerry Roston, Pair of Docs Consulting

(joined mid-year) Terry MacEwen, ABC Awesome Business Counselor

Additional members:

Tina Bissell, Michigan Initiative for Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Annie Wolock, Keystone Media

Logo design and tagline:

Q Ltd., Ann Arbor

Christine Golus, creative director

Katie Chang, designer

Paul Koch, writer

Banner and brochure design:

Kevin Ryan, Alfa Jango

Business cards, name badges, website:

Gerry Roston, Pair of Docs Consulting


Forget about a lemonade stand, kids today can start up higher growth opportunities. Kidpreneur is showing them how. Thanh Tran created Kidpreneur to train kids K-8 in web design, coding, robotics, 3D printing, game development and entrepreneurship. Their new office space in Wixom is gaining a lot of attention.

All kinds of hands on learning opportunities are available. Classes vary in term length to accommodate the interest level of the child and some are available on Skype. At the end of the class, students pitch their idea to classmates. Workshops are used to familiarize a child with a technology before deciding if they want to take a class. Parents can book a party where children can play computer games safely with their friends. Kidpreneur also hosts events for the family as another means to introduce technology at an early age. The programs are a great way to remove the fear out of using and creating with technology.

In an interview with Sarah Schmid of XconomyDET, Ben Seidman, Kidpreneur’s Business and Marketing Manager, explained that they are working on a kit with lessons kids can work on at home. “We want them ultimately to come and learn with other kids, but if that is not possible, this is the next best thing. Each box, geared toward kids in sixth through eighth grades, will contain a toy kit, projects, and a coupon. We’re really excited because it will allow us to reach people outside of our usual realm.

Currently, Kidpreneur is about 25% full and is anticipating to be around 50%-70% full at the end of this year. They are seeking investors to expand their current offerings and have their eye on out of state expansion plans. For now, they are focusing on maximizing their potential before scaling up.

Last year was a good year for entrepreneurs in the state of Michigan. If you want to start a business, qualified help is around the corner, a phone call away, and on the Internet. Michigan has been investing in entrepreneurs in multiple ways with: training programs for every stage of development; support organizations designed to connect entrepreneurs to resources; incubators providing space & technology; business plan and pitching competitions to promote entrepreneurs to the right business connections; all in addition to capital funding.

“According to the 2014 Metrics Report released by MEDC’s Office of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Venture Capital (EIVC), 248 new tech companies were created in Michigan last year. An average of 240 new tech companies have been created each of the last three years with an average of 1,100 new tech jobs each year.”

Over the past five years, Michigan has seen an increase of venture capital firms. The state’s total is now 35 firms who recognize the increase in entrepreneurial opportunities the state offers.

The Michigan entrepreneurial climate now ranks 6th improving from 44th in comparison to other states. This is good news from our Governor, Rick Snyder in his state of the state address in January.

With all of these programs in place, 2015 is bound to be an exciting year of continuing growth.

Three southeastern Michigan start-ups - Genomenon, AdApated and Detroit based LevelEleven - have been selected to present at the Google Demo Days Showcase in April. This event takes place at Google's Silicon Valley facilities and provides exposure to a wide range of tecnnology experts and investors. For more details please visit the following link:

Genomeno and AdAdapted have both presented as New Enterprise Forum showcase presenters after having gone through the NEF presentation coaching program. For more information on becoming a showcase presenter please visit:

The January 2015 issue of Delta Sky magazine interviews entrepreneurial notables Paul Krutko (Ann Arbor SPARK ) and Doug Song (Duo Security) about the supportive and burgeoning environment that exists for start-ups in the Ann Arbor area. Both gentlemen talk about state, university and investor support. The article provides national exposure for a trend many in the area have seen growing for years.

To read the full article, please click here.

New entrepreneurs, especially those coming out of large company environments, need to be aware of some common mistakes. Start-ups aren't small versions of big companies, Elizabeth MacBride of details five traps that entrpreneurs need to look out for, including:

1. Wanting to hire people

2. Focusing on money before milestones

3. You haven't thought through, in detail, how much money you need

4. You aren't retaining talent

5. You aren't exact with how your dollars will be spent

For detailed analysis and tips on all five of these traps visit:



Ann Arbor entrepreneur Steve Schwatrz co-founded Carcode SMS in late 2013. Carcode SMS is a software application allowing potential customers to quickly and easily contact dealerships about specific automobiles. In February of this year, Carcode SMS participated in Edmunds Hackamotive competition in Los Angeles. Less than 8 months after winning that competition Carcode would be acquired by the Edmunds group. 

To read Steve's account of this whirlwind experience, click on the following link

In addition to his work with Carcode SMS, Steve Schwartz is co-founder of Alfa Jango, a software development and support company. He is a member of the New Enterprise Board of Directors and an active coach.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving I compiled a list of things I am thankful for. The following are a few of my thankful points relating to me experience with New Enterprise Forum and entrepreneurs we help.

I am Thankful to people who have positive entrepreneur spirit. These people have been of special enjoyment to work with and in my opinion have been the most successful in their entrepreneur endeavors. To see an entrepreneur accomplish their goal is rewarding, however to see entrepreneurs enjoy what they are doing while working towards their goals is special.

I am Thankful for entrepreneurs and associates who can turn problems into opportunities, challenges and solutions. As can be seen at every NEF meeting most businesses are based on solving some problem for customers. Individuals who can apply the same attitude and skills to daily issues have an advantage and are more likely to succeed. They are also a pleasure to work with.

I am Thankful for experience of working with team players. Being a successful entrepreneur is not an individual effort or accomplishment. There are many people involved. The entrepreneurs I find special are the ones who appreciate, or you may say are thankful to, the other people involved.

A special thanks to the NEF board, program committee, stakeholders and everyone who keeps New Enterprise Forum going and in turn make it possible to part of the other items mentioned above. 

Happy Thanksgiving

The necessary evil I am referring to is forecasted financial statements included in business plans. The importance of my comments on this topic comes from a discussion during a recent NEF program committee meeting.

The discussion focused mostly on forecasts being incomplete and unreasonable. While what is included in a presentation is summarized, the business should have complete forecasts including balance sheet, income statement and statement of cash flow. Well prepared forecasts will quantify and summarize all the other discussed in the business plan. Forecasts are also a means of communicating the entrepreneur’s fiscal responsibilities and recognition of the important of communicating good financial information. We realize that preparing forecasts can be difficult, involve skills that most entrepreneurs are weak in and in the end forecasts will not match actual results. Unfortunately our understanding and sympathy will not get entrepreneurs funding.

For me unreasonable forecasts are especially frustrating. I have been involved with businesses financials for over 30 years and have never seen achieved results with 50% and better EBITA to sales like we have seen in to many forecasts. Other than straight licensing business, these kinds of results just don’t happen. When I see forecasts like this, I become suspicious of what is missing in the business plan. Unreasonable forecasts typically reflect business plan with problems. Most common issue is the marketing and sales. Entrepreneurs fail to recognize the cost to acquire customers. Close to this, is investor backed business will typically take any profits earned and put back into sales to accelerate growth.  

Whether you agree or not with the importance of forecasts, investors do believe they are important. Financial information whether forecasts or historical are one of several means of communication used in the business community. As with any form of communication people need to use methods that will be understood and believed by others.  

Coaching start-up entrepreneurs for their investor pitch is part of NEF’s DNA. At this month’s program committee meeting, thanks to a detailed presentation by Elizabeth Sikkenga, the creative force behind Crisp Marketing ( and an NEF marketing committee member, NEF coaches focused on how to improve the public speaking skills of NEF presenters.  Although it is usual for the coaching teams to provide pointers to the entrepreneurs regarding their presentation style, it was felt that our process would benefit from a more dedicated review of the presentation skills. It was decided that Elizabeth’s presentation was a good basis to develop an assessment sheet that will guide the coaches in the future and to seek the involvement of professional speakers  in the cadre of coaches though connections facilitated by Elizabeth.

Entrepreneurs interested in becoming a Showcase Presenter, should follow instructions at