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."

Crain's Detroit Business reported that Venture Investors LLC has closed on its latest fund, the $75 million Venture Investors Health Fund VI LP. Crain's quotes Jim Adox as saying "In our prior funds, we invested in a mix of health care and technology. For this fund, we made the decision to go 100 percent to health care." Jim Adox is based in Ann Arbor and will be the executive managing director of the fund. The article goes on to explore the recent history of Southeast Michigan's strength in health care venture investing.

The New Enterprise Forum has also seen a surge in healthcare-focused startups in recent years. Several founders of healthcare startups have benefited from NEF coaching. Showcase presenters with healthcare solutions have included InheRET, Genomenon, Workit Health, Spellbound, Advaita, eScapes Network, Smile Bond, Pathware (MedKairos), EagleView Imaging, and Carrot Pass. Several of these companies have gone on to successful fund raising rounds while others are still in the process of pitching to potential investors.

CEO Kim Gamez and Mi Padrino were the subject of a enthusiastic article published online by Forbes Magazine on September 4, 2019. Entitled "Diverse Cultural Celebrations Are A Huge Market Opportunity", the article by Geri Stengel relates the origin story of the Ann Arbor-based startup and describes how the company to has grown to serve 500,000 users with the help of $1.5M capital raise.

Kim Gamez was the Showcase presenter at New Enterprise Forum in July 2017. Mi Padrino® is an event planning service to help parents and families organize, plan, and fund events celebrated in the Hispanic tradition, including Quinceañeras.