"How to Impress Investors with Your  Startup's Traction."

During the June 2021 Forum, a panel of seasoned entrepreneurs and other experts provided their perspectives on this critical topic for early stage startups. 


Martin Dober is Senior Vice President, Invest Detroit & Managing Director, ID Ventures. With more than 18 years of experience in early-stage technology ventures and in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, Mr. Dober’s primary responsibility is to provide investment capital and support to early-stage and high-growth companies in the region.  Previously, Mr. Dober was senior vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. He also held senior positions in several small technology companies, including iRobot Corporation, American Systems Technology, Inc., and EIP, Inc. He holds director and board observer positions for portfolio companies Shoptelligence, Greenmark Biomedical, Akadeum, PicoSpray, and Detroit Materials. He co-founded and leads Hacker Fellows, a talent-retention and attraction program that places diverse computer science talent into Michigan startups. Mr. Dober received a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in computer science from Kettering University (formerly GMI) and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.


Katie Hall is Founder and CEO of Claira, a competency matching platform that connects people to work instantly, based only on what they can do. No job descriptions. No resumes.  Katie spent seven years in global workforce development building competency models and helping companies and policy organizations prepare for the future of work.  She regularly speaks and writes on a variety of topics including the digital economy, diversity hiring, competency analytics, AI ethics and automation impact on the workforce. Previously, she worked in the White House Office of Global Communications and spent four years with the White-Collar Crime Division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  She holds an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management, an MPA from the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and a BA in Political Science from Hope College. 

Jeffrey Mason is Chief Executive Officer of Groundspeed Analytics, a leading data sciences firm he founded that serves property and casualty insurance companies like Aon, Willis Towers Watson, Travelers, The Hartford, Swiss Re, and Liberty Mutual. Mr. Mason has spent the last 20 years creating and leading high-growth insurance and insurance technology companies. Prior to Groundspeed, he has led teams in sales, marketing, product, and analytics in numerous roles at full-stack insurance and insurance technology companies. From 2002 - 2015, Mr. Mason led alternative risk financing and alternative risk transfer programs at Chelsea Rhone where he formed and managed casualty insurance companies globally for hundreds of clients. Mr. Mason holds a BS, Economics from Michigan State University and an MBA from The University of Michigan.

Dr. Nestor Lopez-Duran is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan and the Founder of Ripple Science. He received his undergraduate degree in Music and Psychology from the University of South Florida and his Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology at the University of Michigan.  As a professor at Michigan, he conducts research on stress and mental health in adolescents. In 2016, he created a web-based application designed to improve the recruitment and retention of participants in his clinical studies. This software became the foundation of Ripple Science, a University of Michigan spinoff that is now a growing Ann Arbor-based tech startup. The Ripple software is now being used in over 100 Universities and clinical trial sites in the US, Canada, Europe, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

Terrence J.L. Reeves is a member of Irish Angels, a Chicago-based leading angel group that invests in early-stage startups across the U.S. He currently serves as chairman of the group’s board of directors. Recently, Terrence co-founded Commune Angels, a Detroit-based, diversity missioned angel community that invests in U.S.-based scalable software, consumer products and life science companies. Commune leverages inclusion to drive better outcomes for investors, portfolio companies and their customers. Terrence serves as Partner-in-Charge of Frost Brown Todd’s Ann Arbor office, where he chairs the firm’s venture capital team. His practice includes representing startups and emerging growth companies at all stages of development, and the investors that fund them. Terrence advises clients across a broad range of industries, including digital health, consumer products, energy, cyber-security, mobility, and other emerging technologies. Terrence’s recent investments include Malamo, Tribu and AboveBoard.

“How to Impress Investors with your Business Plan Financials”

During the April 2021 Forum, a panel of seasoned entrepreneurs and other experts provided their perspectives on this critical topic for early stage startups. (First couple of minutes are missing from the video due to technical glitch.)


Jack Miner Chief Investment Officer, TEDCO. At TEDCO, Jack stewards diligence and investment processes, leads the Builder, Seed and Maryland Venture Funds and investment portfolios to maximize the financial return, and ensures a lasting impact for the State of Maryland. He reports to the CEO providing insight to advance TEDCO’s investment activities, leads investment teams, completes all investment transactions, effectively maintains portfolio development and ensures compliance with all investment policies and guidelines. Jack recently spearheaded 20Fathom’s HealthSpark in Traverse City, Michigan to engage provider, payor, and patient organizations to provide support for rural healthcare and this underserved patient population. Jack’s most recent leadership position was at Cleveland Clinic Ventures as Managing Director where he spearheaded the development of a new corporate venture team for investing in internal startups and external early-stage companies while managing these companies with appropriate governance and oversight. Jack also deployed a robust investment process to co-invest in companies that were strategic to the Clinic. Before joining Cleveland Clinic Ventures, Jack worked for the University of Michigan as Director of the Venture Center where he championed the Mentor-in-Residence Program, the Business Formation Team, and the Venture Accelerator under the Office of Technology Transfer to accelerate new startup ventures to the marketplace. He achieved top status in the industry with over 300 companies in the portfolio. Jack was part of Computer Associates before it went public on the NYSE and subsequently was acquired. Jack also served in senior management and board positions for Enhale Medical, Custom Orthopedics, Juventas Therapeutics, and Navigate Cardiac Structures, among others.


Jeffrey Basch Co-founder and CFO, Fifth Eye Inc. Jeff co-founded Fifth Eye, an Ann Arbor venture funded company that develops intuitive real-time clinical analytics to improve patient outcomes and reduce hospital costs. In March, Fifth Eye received their FDA De Novo grant authorizing the commercial launch of their Analytic for Hemodynamic Instability, known as AHI. AHI can continuously monitor any patient with an ECG for hemodynamic instability — a leading cause of death for critically ill or injured patients. Jeff built his broadly adaptive skills over 14 years at early-stage start-ups and 17 years at General Electric. He started his 30-year career as a chemical engineer in a manufacturing plant. After a stint in research and development, he followed one of his products to a sales and marketing position in Automotive. As a sales manager he was directly responsible for contracts worth over $30M a year. When Jeff left GE in 2007, he was managing a team of 19 spread across North America and responsible for over $200M in annual revenue. Jeff officially joined the start-up finance world in 2008 as business manager for Accio Energy. He has been CFO of Fifth Eye since its founding in 2018. Jeff has now managed early-stage financing of over $20M from a broad array of sources including multimillion dollar transactions with venture capitalists, angels, and US and State agencies such as the Department of Energy, Department of Defense and Public Service Agencies. Jeff has built financial systems from the ground up to support the most rigorous requirements of venture capitalist and government agency audits. His experience in many different functional areas allows him to speak the language of all customers. Jeff views Finance as a cross functional role whose mission is to make others successful with strategies developed from credible and timely data.

John Freshley – President, Fresh Venture Development & Co-Founder, Bioscience Navigators. Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, John Prista Freshley is a high-energy entrepreneur, company builder and leader that has founded, launched, and/or led 10 early-stage life science companies over the past two decades. Currently, as President & Owner of Fresh Venture Development and Co-Founder of Bioscience Navigators, John is focused on being “helpful” to scientists, founders, and/or companies within the entrepreneurial ecosystems of Michigan and Portugal as an advisor and/or in interim leadership roles. Within Michigan, he serves as Executive Chairman of Curio Genomics, Head of Corporate Development for Asalyxa Bio, and Venture Partner at Orange Grove Bio. In Portugal, he serves as an Advisor to A5 Ventures, an advisor to P-Bio (the Portuguese biotech association), and a faculty mentor to ITQB Start-up, a collaboration of life science research institutions from around Portugal that is based out of Universidade Nova de Lisboa, where he coaches 6+ teams annually to plan the launch of new start-up concepts. Outside of Michigan and Portugal, John also serves as Interim EVP of GenomiCare, Inc, where he is leading the launch of a real-world evidence (RWE) clinical genomics company to serve pharma and biotech interested in high quality, patient-centric real-world oncology data in Chinese patient populations. Previously, from 2013 through April 2019, John served as President & CEO of ONL Therapeutics, an emerging ophthalmology company focused on preventing the death of retinal cells, the leading cause of permanent vision loss. Prior to ONL, he led the launch of Compendia Bioscience in 2006 as its Start-Up CEO for 2 years. He continued to serve the company for another 4 years as Chief Business Officer until its acquisition by Life Technologies (now Thermo Fisher) in 2012. 

Mike Klein CEO, Genomenon, Inc. Mike is the CEO of Genomenon, an Ann Arbor venture funded company, commercializing a genomic search engine that leverages Artificial Intelligence to organize the world’s genomic knowledge and put it at the fingertips of clinicians to diagnose patients suffering from rare diseases and cancer, and researchers to create precision medicine targeted at these diseases. Prior to this, Mike was a 4-time serial entrepreneur with several successful exits under his belt and 30 years of CEO experience starting, building and growing high tech, software companies. He wrote the business plan for his first company, Steeplechase Software, while in the MBA program at the University of Michigan and started the company in 1993. Steeplechase was #89 on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies when it was sold to Schneider Automation in 2000. In 2001, he led a turnaround at Interlink Networks.  In 2008, Mike joined Online Tech as Co-CEO, and sold the company 4 years later for a 10X return to its investors.

RIZZARR Founder Ashley Williams gave a heartfelt thanks to her NEF coaches after receiving the award for 2020 Presentation of the Year.

Ashley's coaching team included April Christian-Davis, Jennifer Laidlaw, David Maas, Bill McPherson and Scott Taylor.

RIZZARR is a tech-enabled content marketplace for brands to work with Millennial and Gen Z content creators worldwide. RIZZARR acts as an intermediary marketing platform for brands to find, connect, and collaborate with  over 5,300 content creators from around the world. RIZZARR helps Millennial and Gen Z nano-influencers and micro-influencers to authentically produce high-quality videos, selfie videos, podcasts, social posts, articles, and photos for brands to use across their apps, social media, and other digital media properties.

Ashley M. Williams is the founder and CEO of RIZZARR.  She also founded Millennials Change, an event series created to inspire Millennials to make a positive impact on the world. Before starting her journey into entrepreneurship, Ashley was an award-winning journalist working for NBC News, WBAL Radio, and USA TODAY. She graduated with honors from the University of Southern California, earning a B.A. in broadcast and digital journalism as well as minors in international relations and Spanish. As a collegiate debater, she received a scholarship and placement on the USC Trojan Debate Squad. In her spare time, Ashley is a board member for various mission-driven entities including Techbridge Girls and the National Association for Media Literacy Education.

SpellBound, an Ann Arbor-based augmented reality company, has received an $1.8 million fast track grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to study opioid use in pediatric cancer patients. Details of the award were covered in a recent story published online by WDIV.

As reported, the study will measure the effects of SpellBound’s augmented reality scavenger hunt, ARISE, on the length of hospital stay and opioid use by pediatric cancer patients after surgery. The fast track grant allows SpellBound to accelerate the study by combining phase 1 and phase 2 trials to test feasibility and perform clinical trials. With the grant funds, SpellBound will provide support resources for research hospitals in the study, hire more engineers and evolve ARISE. The study will begin this month at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers in Houston, Texas.

SpellBound CEO and Founder Christina York was the Showcase presenter at the New Enterprise Forum in May 2017. Christina comes from a user experience background and spent 15 years designing technology solutions for health care and higher ed, building high-performing teams and managing 7-figure budgets. She holds a B.Sc. in Biochemistry and a Master’s in Information Science and is active in the STEM movement in southeastern Michigan. Over the past few years, her startup has won numerous awards and received venture funding from multiple angel funds. Spellbound is used by child life specialists, rehabilitation engineers and nurses across the United States and around the world in countries like Kenya and Japan. More information about the company and its solutions can be found at the SpellBound website.

The New Enterprise Forum is carrying on its mission to support Michigan entrepreneurs, even as the state is afflicted with the COVID-19 pandemic. Since mid-March, the non-profit organization’s volunteers have been conducting pitch coaching sessions with startup entrepreneurs via videoconference from their homes. The group’s monthly Forum has also shifted to an online venue. The group’s next Forum event, which is open to the public, will be held online on Thursday April 16 and will include a discussion of resources available to small businesses to deal with the financial impacts of the pandemic and Michigan’s ‘stay-at-home’ orders.

Explaining the rapid shift in how the organization conducts its operations, NEF President Vic Havele said “We feel it is important for us to keep up our efforts to support the formation and growth of new businesses during this period of crisis, so we have quickly adopted online conferencing tools that allow us to stay engaged with our entrepreneurs and with the broader startup community.”

April is typically a busy month for NEF’s business coaches. As in previous years, the New Enterprise Forum is collaborating with the Zell Lurie Institute of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business to provide pitch coaching to entrepreneurs who will be presenting to investors at the Midwest Growth Capital Symposium in May. According to the NEF Vice President for Programs Paul Henchey, “NEF volunteers are meeting with dozens of entrepreneurs this month to help them fine tune their investment pitches ahead of the investor symposium.” The Symposium will be held online this year because of the pandemic.

Founded in 1986, the New Enterprise Forum is a non-profit organization whose members volunteer to provide coaching services that help startup entrepreneurs perfect their investor pitches. The New Enterprise Forum hosts a monthly public event that showcases emerging startups and provides a networking opportunity for members of the startup community to connect and collaborate.


Mercy Education Project team, comprised of Highschool girls won funding for their pilot project Rock City Mobility Stations.

When the 11th grade girls of Mercy Education Project were asked about mobility in their neighborhood, Southwest Detroit, they identified two key concerns: Getting around safely and feeling isolated from the greater city. Because Detroit is so geographically large and lacks an all-encompassing and dynamic transportation and communication system, these young residents feel disconnected. Rock City Mobility Stations look at mobility through the eyes of youth who are not able to utilize a car, but still need to get around their city, while also contributing to a quality visitor, tourist and worker experience.

Click here to learn more about the Michigan Central Station challenge and all the winners.

Vic Havele, Manjiree Nikam, and Robert Shannon coached Mercy Education Project Team at TechTown in Detroit. Bill McPherson, David Rish, Vic Havele and Bob Shannon coached several other finalists.

As part of this challenge, Ford Mobility sought written proposals from around the country and selected twelve teams as finalists to revitalize Detroit’s oldest neighborhood-Corktown, around Michigan Central station. Ford requested New Enterprise Forum to help these finalists prepare 5-minute pitches to judges in order to win pilot funding for their mobility solutions, based on Ford’s evaluation criteria. The competition took place on Jan 23rd.  Finale Event was held in Detroit on January 30th.

Ripple Science announced in January that it has completed a $2.5M equity financing round, attracting more than $2M from a syndicate of out-of-state venture funds. The financing will be used to scale sales and marketing efforts, expanding the company’s commercial reach among private and public clinical research organizations.

Ripple Science Corp.'s funding round was led by Omaha-based Dundee Venture Capital, according to a report in Crain’s Detroit. Other participants include the Rise of the Rest seed fund, from AOL co-founder Steve Case's Washington, D.C.-based Revolution Ventures; Houston-based Mercury Fund; Denver-based SpringTime Ventures; Chicago-based M25; and Red Cedar Ventures in East Lansing. Previous investors also returned to contribute to the cloud-based software company's new financing: Invest Detroit Ventures, Invest Michigan and the University of Michigan's Michigan Investment in New Technology Startups initiative, according to a news release. Before this, Ripple had raised $2.5 million since its founding in 2016.

CEO Peter Falzon told Crain’s that Ripple wouldn't have grown without the funding ecosystem in metro Detroit and Michigan. He cited groups including Invest Detroit Ventures and Invest Michigan, and "efforts being made to create the startup environment by setting up these sources of capital for early stage companies."

Ripple Science Founder Nestor Lopez-Duran, an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Michigan, was coached by a NEF team and was the Showcase presenter at the New Enterprise Forum in November 2016. More recently, CEO Peter Falzon was coached by NEF members as he prepared to pitch to a local angel group. 

Ripple is a HIPAA compliant, SaaS platform that saves researchers time by effectively managing all levels of participant recruitment and retention for clinical trials. Ripple provides real-time analytics to track progress and mitigate risks and empowers research and clinical trial teams through data-driven insights and a centralized communication platform. With Ripple, researchers are automatically building their own participant registries which can be shared and leveraged for future trials.


Throughout the fall semester of 2019, several New Enterprise Forum members headed to the Ross School of Business every Wednesday evening to volunteer as mentors in an innovative educational experience called "Financing Technology Commercialization: A Venture Capital Practicum". The course paired up nineteen student teams with nineteen entrepreneurs who are seeking investment in their startup companies. With guidance from their assigned mentors the students developed value propositions, business plans and pitch decks for the startups. The climax of the course came in mid-December when the students took turns making their investment pitches to a panel of judges with deep experience in venture capital investing. In addition to providing an unusual 'real-life' educational experience for the students, the course helped the entrepreneurs fine tune their business plans and gain connections in the investment community.

The course was conceived by David J. Brophy, one of the leaders of the Zell Lurie Institute at the Ross School of Business. Professor Brophy joined the finance faculty at the University of Michigan in 1968 and has served since 1992 as Director of the Center for Venture Capital and Private Equity Finance, where he assists emerging and mid-size companies.

A number of New Enterprise Forum members have been involved in the development of the course over the last several years. One of Brophy's key staff members for the course was Stewart Nelson, Past President and long time Board Member of the New Enterprise Forum. With fellow NEF Board Member Gary Hazen, Stew created the Entrepreneur’s Equity Roadmap, a crucial element of the course curriculum.  Current NEF members who volunteered as mentors this year included Francis Glorie, Matt Hulbert, Vic Havele, Paul Henchey, Ravi Nigam and Stefan Sysko.


U-M Tech Transfer, the unit responsible for commercializing University of Michigan research discoveries and innovations, will create the Accelerate Blue Fund to provide seed capital to nascent U-M startup companies. The nonprofit, philanthropic fund will be initially funded with $250,000 in donations secured for this purpose. A fundraising effort is being launched with a goal of at least $20 million in additional gifts. The fund will begin accepting startup investment applications after it has raised $2 million.

The new fund fills a gap for seed capital for startups whose products have early market validation, a strong value proposition, a feasible commercial path, at least one founder focused on the venture, and a good chance at follow-on funding or exit within two years of securing seed capital.

The Accelerate Blue Fund will be supervised by a fund manager and guided by an investment advisory board. The board will be chaired by Chris Rizik, a Law School alumnus and CEO of Renaissance Venture Capital. “It’s wonderful to see U-M bring additional investment capital into our ecosystem,” Rizik said. “It is addressing a critical need.”

For more details see The University RECORD.


Valerie Obenchain, founder of Advanced Interactive Response Systems (AIRS), was notified in August by officials in Australia that she had been granted a patent for the company's main product, an oxygen flow monitor for those using oxygen tanks. News of this latest milestone for the Michigan-based company was covered in an article in Crain's Detroit Business. The company already has patents in the US and is anticipating FDA approval in the near future. Obenchain has previously raised over one half million from investors and is now pursuing a Series A funding round.

Valerie Obenchain was the Showcase presenter at the New Enterprise Forum in November 2014. Obenchain, a registered respiratory therapist, said at the time that "NEF set me up with an amazing coaching team that helped with AIRS' presentation. They gave me guidance on how to tell the story about why AIRS was started."