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Michigan VCtalk

Michigan VCtalk

By Ara Topouzian
Michigan VCtalk is a podcast series (launched in 2020) developed by the Michigan Venture Capital Association (MVCA). Each episode will focus on guests such as investors, entrepreneurs, and other thoughtful leaders that are making a difference in the Michigan ecosystem. Hosted by Ara Topouzian, Executive Director of MVCA.

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History of VC in Michigan & MVCA Celebrates 20th Anniversary, Part 1
In this special two part podcast episode, Ara Topouzian, Executive Director of Michigan Venture Capital Association (MVCA) narrates the history of how venture capital started to form and grow in the state of Michigan. Included in this podcast are audio clips featuring some of the early pioneers that helped shape venture capital activity in Michigan as well as those responsible for forming an organized community now known as MVCA (which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022). Special thank you to podcast sponsors Michigan Rise and Invest Detroit. Background music supplied by Pixabay. 
September 07, 2022
Michael Cole, President of The Technology Industry Group, Bank of Ann Arbor
Ara talks with Michael Cole, President of the Technology Industry Group with Bank of Ann Arbor. Bank of Ann Arbor's Technology Industry Group provides a full range of banking products to emerging and later-stage technology and life sciences companies, venture capital firms, angel investors and entrepreneurs. Special thanks to podcast sponsors Michigan Rise and Invest Detroit. 
August 08, 2022
Steve Tobocman & Ernestine Lyons, Global Detroit & Ayush Agarwal, Pencil Learning Technologies (Part 2)
Ara talks with Steve Tobocman and Ernestine Lyons of Global Detroit about the work their organization is doing to support the immigrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. The second half of the podcast highlights a native of India, Ayush Agarwal, a product leader and angel investor who has led major initiatives at Google and Facebook. He is the co-founder of Pencil Learning Technologies, a software solution that offers content management, workflows and communications for educators to structure and maximize student learning while saving time. Pencil has raised $5 million in venture capital since joining Global Detroit's Global EIR program in 2020. Recently, Ayush and Pencil were selected to participate in Y Combinator, one of the world’s most successful and prestigious startup accelerators. Michigan VCtalk is proudly sponsored by Michigan Rise and Invest Detroit.
June 28, 2022
Steve Tobocman & Ernestine Lyons Global Detroit and Ashok Seetharam, PAXAFE (Part 1)
Ara talks with Steve Tobocman and Ernestine Lyons of Global Detroit about the work their organization is doing to support the immigrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. The second half of the podcast highlights founder Ashok Seetharam, PAXAFE and he discussed his startup and how Global Detroit supported his desire to stay in the US. 
June 16, 2022
Jeff Wesley, Executive Director at Michigan Rise, Red Cedar Ventures and Spartan Innovations
Ara talks with Jeff Wesley, Executive Director of Red Cedar Ventures, the venture investment subsidiary of the MSU Foundation. In his role, he actively manages and grows the company’s venture investment portfolio. Jeff is also Executive Director for Michigan Rise Pre-Seed Fund III invests in Michigan tech startups to help commercialize innovative technologies. Prior to Red Cedar Ventures, Wesley served as CFO of Two Men and a Truck from 2008 to 2015, then as the company’s chief executive from 2015 to 2017. Under his leadership, the company grew from $186 million to over $500 million in annual revenues and earned a place among Crain’s Detroit Business’ “Cool Places to Work”.
May 02, 2022
Jeff Ponders, Principal & Portfolio Success, Invest Detroit
Ara talks with Jeff Ponders II who joined the ID Ventures team in April 2021 as Principal, Portfolio Success. In this role Jeff works closely with portfolio company founders as they scale toward major growth milestones and reach material valuation inflection points. Jeff is a passionate leader for the entrepreneur ecosystem and it shows in this podcast. Michigan VCtalk is proudly sponsored by Michigan Rise and Invest Detroit.
April 01, 2022
DEI UnDemo Day 2022, Vince Nystrom, Renaissance Venture Capital
Ara had a chance to talk to Vince Nystrom, Partner at Renaissance Venture Capital. Renaissance Venture Capital is organizing the April, 2022 DEI UnDemo Day® which will bring together some of the region’s top early-stage companies and technologies for a virtual event with venture capital investors from around the country. This is the first UnDemo Day® designed exclusively to attract national venture capital to diverse founders. The virtual event will highlight companies from the Midwest and Central U.S. led by women, people of color, and other diverse communities.
March 14, 2022
Varnum LLP Attorneys Discuss MiSpringboard Program
Ara had the opportunity to talk to both Matt Bower and Zach Meyer, attorneys for Varnum LLP. The discussion centered on their program MiSpringboard, a statewide initiative designed to remove some of the barriers associated with starting a business by providing free legal services to Michigan startups. Varnum launched the MiSpringboard program in 2011 as a way of helping Michigan’s then-struggling economy with a commitment of $1 million in free legal services. MiSpringboard was our way of helping the economy by doing what we do best – providing high-quality legal counsel to qualified businesses and individuals. Due to the overwhelming success of this program, in 2016 Varnum renewed its commitment to Michigan startups by dedicating a second $1 million in free legal services through the MiSpringboard program.
March 03, 2022
2021 Year End Review of Michigan Venture Community
MVCA Executive Director, Ara Topouzian is joined by former MVCA Chair, Michael Gross (Beringea) for a recap on activities that transpired in Michigan during 2021. They discussed talent, deal flow, exits and funding rounds which were notable as well as under the radar.  
February 09, 2022
Jeff Farrah, National Venture Capital Association - 2022 Policy Priorities
Michigan Venture Capital Association (MVCA) Executive Director spoke with Jeff Farrah, General Counsel of National Venture Capital Association (NVCA). Jeff discusses NVCA's policy priorities for 2022 as well as provide additional legislative updates. More information on MVCA can be found at This podcast is sponsored by Michigan Rise. 
February 02, 2022
Brad King, CEO, Orbion Space Technology
Brad’s two decades in the space field and many professional awards recognize his research contributions in propulsion. He holds a Ph.D in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan, has served on numerous NASA, Department of Defense, and Intelligence Community advisory panels, and has published more than 100 papers on space propulsion systems. Brad is a past recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award from President George W. Bush “for innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology, and for the exceptional potential to shape the future.” In 2002, Brad founded Aerophysics Inc. This closely held company has delivered intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance solutions to government customers from multiple agencies. He is currently principal investigator on three satellite missions. Orbion Space Technology has been a two time winner at the Michigan Venture Capital Awards recognizing their achievements. 
January 12, 2022
Steve Robert, Co-Founder & CEO, Autobook
Steve Robert is the co-founder and CEO of Autobooks, the first fully integrated payments and accounting platform for Small Business - delivered through financial institutions. Autobooks provides an embedded receivables solution (invoicing & payments) bundled into a checking account via internet banking which helps banks and credit unions provide “back-office” services that help small businesses get paid faster and automate accounting.
December 14, 2021
Jan Garfinkle, Founder & Managing Partner, Arboretum Ventures
Jan Garfinkle founded Arboretum Ventures on the premise that innovation is key to delivering value in healthcare, a principle she developed working in the medical device industry for over two decades. Her investments focus on promising medical technologies that enable meaningful healthcare system savings while maintain great clinical outcomes. Jan has led and held board seats in more than a dozen investments across five funds. Ara and Jan touch on a variety of topics including her background, the work she has accomplishment working with the National Venture Capital Association and how she started Arboretum Ventures.
November 03, 2021
Skot Welch, Managing Partner, New Community Transformation Fund
Skot Welch is the Founder/President of Global Bridgebuilders (GBB). The firm is a results-focused organization with extensive experience in the development and implementation of sustainable, process-focused cultural competency, inclusion initiatives accomplished through comprehensive assessment and measurement systems development. He is also a Managing Partner of the newly formed New Community Transformation Fund. This is an investment fund based in Grand Rapids, Michigan to support diverse business owners. The fund aims to increase ethnic and racial diversity in business ownership in West Michigan. In addition, it will focus on businesses that intend to provide multi-generational wealth creation within historically disadvantaged groups. Ara and Skot talk about this new fund as well as other issues surrounding diversity, equity & inclusion. 
October 08, 2021
Kelly Sexton, Ph.D., Associate Vice President for Research - Technology Transfer and Innovation, University of Michigan
As associate vice president for research – technology transfer and innovation partnerships, Kelly works closely with the vice president for research as well as other leaders across the university to provide visionary and strategic leadership of UM’s innovation, business engagement and technology transfer activities, including the Office of Technology Transfer and the Business Engagement Center. In this role, she supports and encourages university-wide programs for intellectual property development, innovation, and engagement with business and venture communities in the region, across the nation, and around the globe. Ara and Kelly talk about the work happening at the Tech Transfer office and their impact in Michigan as well as a new fund they created. 
August 13, 2021
Jim Tenzillo, Vice President, Invest Michigan
Jim is a Chicago native who joined Invest Michigan in 2016. He has over 10 years of experience in finance, entrepreneurship and business development. At Invest Michigan, Jim sources and leads new deals, manages and supports portfolio companies and serves on the boards of select portfolio companies. Jim and Ara had a great conversation covering a variety of topics including how Invest Michigan was created and the work they have done over the years with the Michigan entrepreneur community but we also discussed his methodology on working with entrepreneurs and managing expectations as well as his advice on how he approaches providing valuable support to them; and then we covered some of the work that is needed to help attack unconscious bias when it comes to helping fund diverse entrepreneurs.
July 09, 2021
Wayne Embree, Executive Vice President, Rev1 Ventures
Wayne Embree, Executive Vice President at Rev1 Ventures (Columbus, OH) is an experienced seed-stage investor with a track record of fueling startups with guidance and venture capital. He’s been involved in over 200 investments, including sitting on over 50 boards and taking more than 60 businesses through exits. Throughout his career, he has maintained his passion and enthusiasm for helping entrepreneurs change the world. Wayne has a BS in Natural Sciences from Western Oregon and an MS in Urban Planning from the University of Oregon. This episode is sponsored by Michigan Rise (
June 01, 2021
2021 MVCA Annual Research Report
MVCA recently presented a webinar focused on an analysis of the venture and entrepreneurial community in Michigan through the release of the 2021 MVCA Research Report. This event features Michael Gross (Managing Director, Beringea, MVCA Chair), Jeff Rinvelt (Partner, Renaissance Venture Capital, MVCA Vice Chair & Research Report Chair) and moderated by Ara Topouzian (Executive Director of MVCA). This episode is sponsored by Michigan Rise (
May 07, 2021
Chris Rizik, CEO & Managing Partner, Renaissance Venture Capital
Chris Rizik is the founder, managing partner, and Chief Executive Officer of the Renaissance Venture Capital, a first-of-its-kind network fund formed by a consortium of Fortune 1000 and major private corporations. Renaissance works to invest in and strategically connect venture capital funds and start-up companies with major corporations. Chris is also the founder and publisher of, America’s most popular soul music online magazine. Recorded in October, 2020.
April 06, 2021
Adrian Fortino, Managing Director, Mercury Fund
Ara talks with Adrian Fortino, an experienced founder, operator, engineer and investor in the industrial technology sector. He is a Managing Director and leads the Intelligent Manufacturing practice at Mercury Fund (Houston, TX). Mercury Fund is an early-stage venture capital firm. With over $300 million under management, Mercury focuses on entrepreneurs and technology innovation originating in the U.S. Midcontinent. 
March 04, 2021
Jeff Farah & Justin Field, NVCA - Reflections on 2020 US Presidential election for venture investing
MVCA hosted a recent virtual webinar with Jeff Farrah and Justin Field from the National Venture Capital Association to discuss venture investing in the year ahead, including the impacts related to the Biden-Harris administration policy items, tax and carried interest, research and tech transfer, and capital markets. 
February 02, 2021
Razat Gaurav, CEO, LLamasoft
Ara talks with Razat Gaurav, CEO of LLamasoft, an artificial intelligence supply chain management company. Located in Ann Arbor, MI, LLamasoft was acquired by Coupa for $1.5B, marking a significant exit for their venture capital investors. Learn more about Razat's background and philosphies of being a founder. 
January 13, 2021
David Ollila, Entrepreneur / Founder of 100k Ideas
Ara talks with David Ollila, whose pivotal work for improving and growing local economies has captured the attention of leaders at all levels and earned him multiple invites to the White House. David had his first idea for a product as a seven-year-old worried about his mother cutting fruit. Though the idea never quite stuck, David hasn’t stopped tinkering to find solutions to problems he encounters. A serial entrepreneur, innovator and inventor, he now holds 16 patents on everything from sporting goods to wearable technology. While constantly thinking about new ideas, David provides his expertise and experience to help cultivate entrepreneurship and opportunity in Flint at Skypoint Ventures, 100K Ideas and the Ferris Wheel Innovation Center. (Special thanks to James Carpp, Rehmann for engineering this episode)
November 30, 2020
Jennifer Baird, Founder/CEO, Fifth Eye
This episode features Jennifer Baird, Founder & CEO of Fifth Eye. She is a serial entrepreneur with nearly two decades of experience founding and leading high potential startups as CEO. Her vast experience includes raising angel capital, grant funding for early-stage tech companies and raising venture capital funding as companies grow. She currently leads Fifth Eye, an Ann Arbor, MI based medical device software company building clinical early warning systems for hospitals. (special thanks to James Carpp, Rehmann for engineering this episode)
October 20, 2020
Michigan VCtalks Promo
Have you ever been interested to listen from individuals that make up the great strength of Michigan’s investment and innovation community? Their strategies, insights, philosophies have had a major impact affecting the overall economic growth and drive job creation in our great state. Welcome to Michigan VCtalks!   Our podcast series will spotlight a variety of these guests. We will talk to investors – VC’s and Angels. These conversations will extend to entrepreneurs – Founders and Startups, as well as other thoughtful leaders that are making a difference in the Michigan ecosystem.  My name is Ara Topouzian, and I am the Executive Director of Michigan Venture Capital Association and also the host of Michigan VCtalks. As the voice of the Michigan entrepreneurial and investment community, our association strives to increase the amount of capital and talent available to venture and angel investors so we can fund Michigan’s most innovative entrepreneurs and work closely with them to transform breakthrough ideas into new companies and industries. So what do you need to do next? That’s easy….tune in and listen to Michigan VCtalks! Follow, subscribe and share our episodes with others. Thank you! 
September 17, 2020