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.”


New Enterprise Forum Showcase Presenter in 2011, and won the "Best Business Model" prize for that year.  The University of Michigan spinout has seen great success, recently raising an $8m C Round of Financing.

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Backstage Capital decided on three of the cities ahead of time and held a public vote to determine the fourth. Based on the results, Backstage Capital has selected Detroit, Mich. for the accelerator’s fourth location.

Backstage Accelerator supports underrepresented founders in local programs around the world. Backstage Accelerator is a 3-month program designed to give founders the support they need to reach their next critical milestone. Founders will work with a team of experienced, passionate facilitators and will grow through mentorship, investment capital, and access to resources + networks.

On their website they write, “Detroit is the heart of the auto industry and the hometown of MoTown. It's a rising standout for entrepreneurs in the Midwest. Innovation and technology in the city are booming, and Detroit startups are attracting capital from Silicon Valley as well as local investors and government. Detroit is cost effective, with salaries and rent costs far below US coastal rates, and has a diverse talent pool sourced from 8 of the top 25 entrepreneurial colleges and 6 of the top 20 engineering schools in the US.”

Read TechCrunch Article for more information.  

Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition announces 2018 semi-finalists. The Competition takes place on Thursday, November 13th at Lexus Velodrome, Detroit, MI. This premier pitch competition showcases the best and brightest startups in Michigan while highlighting the state as a powerhouse for business opportunity and next-generation innovation.

NEF coached teams have competed successfully for many years. This year also two teams in the semi-finals have received NEF coaching in the recent past during their entrepreneurial journey.

To learn more about the competition, visit . Also, see the announcement published in Crain’s Detroit Business.

We are happy to announce the addition of two new Stakeholder members: Office Evolution - Ann Arbor and Rehmann CPAs, Consultants and Advisors.

Office Evolution - Ann Arbor, a new business center located at 455 E. Eisenhower, Suite 300, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48108, will be celebrating the grand opening of the first Office Evolution location in Michigan on November 1st from 4 to 7 PM.  Please contact Andrea Hernadez-Morales, Business Center Manager or David Whitinger, Owner at 734-821-8085 for details about the event or to learn more about their office spaces, meeting rooms, shared workspaces or other services.

Rehmann, one of the largest CPA, Consulting and Advisory Firms with Offices in Michigan, Ohio and Florida, is rejoining our Stakeholder ranks.  In recent years the firm has been active in support of start-up entrepreneurial growth here in Michigan and membership in the New Enterprise Forum furthers those efforts. Chris Sing, Principal in the Ann Arbor office is the company’s NEF primary member and enjoys helping emerging companies through rapid stages of growth.

Entrepreneurs in Michigan have access to a wealth of resources to help them with their startups. NEF mentors and coaches share wealth of knowledge with the entrepreneurial community on our website at We have recently updated the following in the resources section of the website.

  1. 10-Minute Investor Pitch
  2. Investor Pitch – Questions to Answer
  3. Entrepreneur's Bookshelf

Feel free to share these resources to help Michigan startups.