After more than thirty years in a very successful career as an ad man and business executive, David Maas is giving back. This Michigan native, car fanatic, and Wolverine fan now makes time to volunteer with the New Enterprise Forum and other organizations to help foster entrepreneurship in the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas. After hearing about the business coaching organization from several colleagues, David started attending NEF meetings in 2018 and found himself in easy conversation with a welcoming group of interesting people. Over the past several months he has thrown himself into NEF’s signature coaching process, working with a team of volunteer coaches to help a local entrepreneur refine his investor pitch. “I like the well-defined process,” explains David, “and the opportunity to make a difference.”

David was an advertising executive for decades with the J. Walter Thompson agency, working in several different industries, and then spent several more years as a general manager with a large auto parts company. In addition to his volunteer activities he also pursues consulting projects where his branding expertise can add value. As the winner of eight prestigious Effie awards over his career, David has now been asked to moderate final round Effie judging and to assist with the Effie Collegiate program.

David lives in Grosse Pointe with his wife Karen Fontanive who writes for the local paper and is active in community affairs. They both love to travel. Michigan football is also a passion, so David frequently travels to games with his roommates from his college days in Ann Arbor. David is always in the process of restoring one or more classic cars and recently shared a photo of himself with one of his favorites.

The 38th annual Midwest Growth Capital Symposium took place over two days in May 2019 and featured a number of companies who had completed the NEF coaching process and had previous experience as Showcase presenters at the New Enterprise Forum. MGCS is the longest running university-based venture fair of its kind. The MGCS company showcase this year featured 33 Midwest companies that are seeking seed, series A, and series B rounds of funding. More than 400 attendees were expected, comprising early-stage companies that span the Life Sciences and Technology sectors, angel investors, venture capitalists and technology transfer professionals from several dozen top-ranked Midwest Universities.  

Presenting companies that were graduates of the formal NEF coaching process included MiPadrino, Melius Outcomes, and Ripple Science. NEF members also supported most of the other presenting companies by meeting with them at the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies in the weeks ahead of the event, providing feedback on their pitch presentations. Several NEF members attended the two day event and were active participants in sessions at the Marriott Eagle Crest Resort in Ypsilanti.

NEF Board members caught on camera at the event included Paul Henchey, Francis Glorie, Gary Hessenaur, Lee Gorman, Scott Taylor, April Davis and Vic Havele.

Advaita Bioinformatics, provider of the industry-leading gene expression and genomic variation analysis platform, recently announced a new partnership with Millennium Science for distribution of Advaita’s software to research institutions and pharma companies across Australia and New Zealand. Millennium Science is replacing Qiagen’s Ingenuity products with iPathwayGuide and iVariantGuide products for all pathway and variant analysis. The deal is a three-year commitment. Millennium Science is converting its current clients to Advaita products and selling new cloud-based subscriptions to new customers immediately. For more information visit Advaita's website.

Advaita’s CEO Sorin Draghici was the Showcase presenter at the New Enterprise Forum in April 2018. Advaita recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of the launch of its world-class pathway analysis software, iPathwayGuide.


Spellbound Founder and CEO Christina York says, "You are never done working on your pitch." York was a Showcase Presenter at the May 2017 New Enterprise Forum and has been pitching practically every day since then.

In a video recently distributed by the Michigan Economic Development Council, the NEF alum shares this takeaway and other advice for startup entrepreneurs. York's other tips address maximizing the use of local and state resources in the early stages of company growth, and avoiding pitfalls related to company culture. For more tips, read the article on the MEDC website.


Spellbound is pioneering a new patient experience that improves patient understanding, cooperation, and satisfaction using augmented reality technology in pediatric care. Spellbound is now 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 Spellbound's solutions and its traction with customers can be found at

Ann Arbor SPARK recently recognized Groundspeed Analytics as its 2019 Entrepreneurial Services Company of the Year Award Winner. This was just the latest of many awards for this fast growing startup. Just a year ago, the New Enterprise Forum presented Groundspeed Founder and Co-CEO Jeff Mason with its 2017 NEF Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Formed in early 2016, this innovative InsurTech company utilizes machine learning to transform unstructured commercial insurance documents into actionable intelligence. By making the process more accurate and efficient, insurance carriers and brokers now have a game-changing tool to advance their information advantage. Groundspeed closed a $30 million Series-B investment from Oak HC/FT in July, 2018. The investment is being deployed to accelerate product development and customer success.

As it started up, Groundspeed benefited from many services of the Ann Arbor entrepreneurial ecosystem, including Ann Arbor Spark's Entrepreneur Bootcamp and coaching by the New Enterprise Forum. Jeff Mason and his colleagues tell their story in a YouTube video.

A communal breakfast of waffles and bacon to kickoff casual Friday is just one of the many pluses of the new co-working space where April Davis now operates her Breakout Marketing Group, a consulting firm she founded 20 years ago. April enjoys the opportunities to chat with other professionals in the office while she works hard on developing her own marketing services business, focused on optimizing social media and customer engagement. Recently she treated a visitor to a fine cup of cold brew coffee while seated at her desk overlooking the Briarwood neighborhood in Ann Arbor.

April caught the entrepreneurial bug early in her life and started multiple enterprises in her home town of Buffalo, NY. She moved to Michigan in 2000 and since then has earned degrees in business and marketing from Washtenaw Community College and Eastern Michigan University. April works with companies in a range of industries but is particularly focused on mobility ventures in the automotive space. She hopes to expand her business into global markets over the next few years and is developing contacts in China and Brazil as well as Canada and England.

April joined the Board of the New Enterprise Forum at the beginning of 2019 and has quickly taken on an active role in the organization. She is currently the impresario for the NEF’s Pitch Pit competitions, recruiting budding entrepreneurs and experienced judges for these events that NEF presents every other month. April is also using her marketing skills to help expand NEF’s social media presence. April sees her volunteering with NEF as one important part of her broader effort to “invest in relationships” and “be a part of the ecosystem”, planting seeds that will blossom in the future.

In addition to all her professional activities, April makes time for nature walks and enjoys baking and wine tasting. If you are lucky you might even find one of her Aunt Hazel lemon pudding cakes at a local restaurant.

In 2013, when Sean Li left his home in Beijing to go abroad for the first time, he chose to enroll in the University of Michigan to study Statistics and Business, recognizing the world class educational resources here. In 2017, when TusStar, one of the largest providers of incubation services in China, wanted to establish a U.S. presence, it chose Ann Arbor as its first location because it recognized the “vast potential of the startup ecosystem here.” Today, Sean Li is Manager of TusStar’s Ann Arbor office, working under Frank Ni, President, at their Green Road location.

TusStar Ann Arbor is a startup incubator and early stage venture firm with a focus on mobility solutions. TusStar also focuses on making connections between U.S. innovators and resources in China. To that end, Sean, Frank and their colleagues are organizing a trip this spring that will take Michigan entrepreneurs on a tour of four cities in China where they will do product demos and meet potential investors.

Since TusStar is new to the area, Sean joined New Enterprise Forum to raise awareness and “get connected to startups and to potential partners.” As he has participated in NEF meetings and Forums, Sean has recognized that NEF not only helps entrepreneurs with their “pitching skills”, but also provides value by creating connections to other members who have deep experience in finance, management, marketing and other business disciplines.

After hours, Sean works out lifting weights and has recently taken up playing poker with a group of friends. He also takes advantage of the opportunities for skiing during the Michigan winter. Sean had to leave his family behind in China but enjoys the companionship of his pet cat in his Ann Arbor home.

Alchemie, a Michigan-based educational technology startup, has won another round of funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop 3D and augmented reality (AR) learning tools for teaching general chemistry. Alchemie CEO Julia Winter was a showcase presenter at the New Enterpise Forum in May 2016. Recently Alchemie has been testing an AR tool called ModelAR at the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, Georgia Tech, and the University of Washington in preparation for an April launch. In addition to NSF support, Alchemie has raised a total of $770,000 from angel and venture funds, including Invest Michigan, Belle Impact Fund, and BlueWater Angels.

Jeff Mason, Founder and Co-CEO of Groundspeed and former NEF client

Groundspeed has been recognized as the 2019 “SmartZone Best Small Business” of the year, an awards program presented by Michigan Celebrates Small Business. Groundspeed will be honored at an awards ceremony during the fifteenth annual Michigan Celebrates Small Business gala event, May 8, 2019 in Lansing, Mich.

Read more here

Coffee is important and David Whitinger likes to brag that Office Evolution has some of the best in town. As co-owner of the new office space for entrepreneurs that opened in Ann Arbor in late 2018, David is eager to show off the attractively furnished facility and offered a welcome cup of coffee to a visitor who stepped in from the frozen February air. Like other franchise locations around the country, the Office Evolution space on Eisenhower Parkway combines several private offices with shared areas such as conference rooms, reception desk, and kitchen.

David joined the New Enterprise Forum as a stakeholder in 2018 while he was launching his new business. At NEF events he found the other members were accomplished and successful in their fields but were at the same time very approachable and friendly. And David appreciates the great networking opportunities that NEF membership provides. “I have a number of specific examples where people I met through NEF connections developed into clients for our business,” David explained in a recent conversation.

David has lived and worked in Michigan for over thirty years, marketing chemical adhesives in the automotive industry. He resides with his wife Carol in Dexter, near Big Portage Lake where he enjoys taking out his pontoon boat during the summer months. Carol is a Laboratory Manager at the University of Michigan as well as co-owner of Office Evolution. David and Carol are both looking forward to attending the next Forum meeting. In David’s opinion, “The topics are fascinating and interesting to talk about afterwards.”