TechArb and University of Michigan staff, entrepreneurs, investors and alumni from the community all serve as mentors to help students learn and succeed in the start-up world. Mentors review venture developments, provide feedback and hold regular office hours.

Please click here for a TechArb Mentor Request Form (for those who don’t hold regular office hours)

Please use this link to sign up for office hours (for TechArb students only)

Ida Abdalkhani | Founder & President, Ability to Engage

Areas of expertise: Marketing and branding


Ida is the Founder & President of Ability to Engage, Inc. Ida leverages her 5+ years of brand and marketing experience at major CPG firms (Procter & Gamble and The Coca-Cola Company) and her experience with consumers and teams around the world, to develop and co-create brand equities, architectures, and consumer segmentation as well as marketing strategies. Ida also develops and facilitates idea workshops, innovation sessions, and team effectiveness workshops. Ida has served as a guest speaker to MBA classes, non-profit organizations, and for-profit companies about how to create brand strategy, creating actionable consumer segmentation, marketing plan strategy, and consumer behavior. She has been published in YOUNG MONEY® magazine and served as an Advisory Board Member to Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business Center for Entrepreneurship and NCT Ventures. She currently serves as an Advisory Board Member to a new start-up, Yorganic Chef. Ida also recently obtained her certification as a Laughter Yoga Leader from the Dr. Kataria School of Laughter Yoga to use as key tool in engaging the right-side of the brain to help unleash creativity within corporations.

Laura Berdish | Faculty Research Service/Reference Services Librarian, University of Michigan, Ross School of Business, Kresge Library Services

Areas of expertise: Strategy; Entrepreneurial Studies


Laura was born in Detroit and received both a BA and MLS from Michigan. Her work experience has been primarily in the corporate world, and worked in a variety of industries, including automotive, publishing (on the web, a traditional trade weekly and database production), biotechnology and healthcare. After spending twenty years in Boston and in the computer/high technology industry with the company formerly known as Digital Equipment Corporation (now Hewlett Packard) she moved back to Michigan in 2006 to take the Kresge Library position. Laura has had the opportunity to work in all types of libraries in addition to academic, including public library reference, and was once the Young Adult Librarian at the Belmont Public Library back in Massachusetts.

Since joining the Ross School of Business eight years ago she has worked with hundreds of student teams at all levels within the school, including the Executive and part-time programs, the massive program of MBA action-based learning teams every Winter semester, and some pilot programs for the growing population of BBAs. She also supports the faculty in Strategy and Entrepreneurial Studies departments, and is the Kresge liaison for the Zell Lurie Institute and the Erb Institute (a joint program with Natural Resources). Laura has extensive opportunity in working with many of the entrepreneurial programs around campus, including support of the student teams at TechArb and U-M Medical Schools strategic research initiative, Fast Forward Medical Innovation.

Elizabeth Blair | New Business Innovation, Steelcase Inc.

Areas of expertise: Lean startup principles, experience design, project management, new business opportunities & validating business concepts


Elizabeth’s career journey and passion is learning how to leverage design thinking, experience design and lean startup principles to create new, sustainable businesses.  Her experience includes working on corporate innovation teams, managing projects and implementing programs.  Elizabeth’s current role at Steelcase Inc. is to brainstorm with team members to create and develop new business opportunities outside of the company’s core competencies by utilizing design thinking and lean startup principles, systems thinking, financial analysis and in-market testing.  She also works with clients to stage better experiences at large meetings and conferences to increase focus, creativity and quality interaction for participants.

Josh Botkin | Entrepreneur in Residence, University of Michigan, Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies

Areas of expertise: Marketing, Strategy, Business Development & Product Development


Josh was a Partner and Vice President at The Inovo Group, a strategic innovation consulting firm where he led projects in the fields of advanced materials, alternative transportation, automotive, chemicals and coatings, consumer goods, education, health and wellness, personal electronics, and sustainable energy. His clients consisted of Fortune 500 firms (such as Corning, Dow, Ford, Henkel, Johnson Controls, Nestle Purina, and UnitedHealth Group), nonprofits (including AARP), and select startups. As a member of Inovo’s executive team, he led or contributed to the firm’s Marketing, Strategy, Business Development, Product Development, and Hiring/Training efforts. Josh has also served as Vice President of Product & Business Development at Better Rehab, helping to develop the startup’s first tailored software product (for orthopedic patients) and licensing it to a division of Johnson & Johnson. Furthermore, he co-founded Space Weather Forecasting Technologies, working with a team of U-M space physicists to explore commercializing a cutting-edge forecasting technology; things looked great in terms of investor and customer interest… until the advanced discovery efforts revealed that the software’s output was not yet sufficiently accurate or granular to be commercially viable. In addition, Josh helped launch, manage and grow a new online division (an “internal startup”) within a Fortune 500 retailer.

Ben Chehebar | Co-Founder, Compology (San Francisco, CA)

Areas of expertise: Early-stage startup strategy, defining and building an MVP, discovering product-market fit, finding your first customers, seed fundraising & company storytelling


Now based in San Francisco, Ben graduated from the University of Michigan in 2011 with a B.S.E in Mechanical Engineering and a focus on entrepreneurship and design. Over the years he has worked for several startups in design, engineering and business development roles. Most recently he was an engineer on the Adidas Innovation team, responsible for creating new product concepts and manufacturing processes. Currently, he leads product at Compology, a waste management startup that he co-founded in 2012.

Jay Ellis | Commercialization Program Director for MTRAC Transportation, University of Michigan

Areas of expertise: Transportation, mobility, vehicles, automotive, electric propulsion, and manufacturing.


Jay runs UM’s MTRAC Transportation program, which is funding promising technologies with transportation industry applications. Before coming to UM he spent the last 18 years developing cutting edge powertrain and vehicle technologies at General Motors. His last role at GM was Program Manager for the Chevrolet Spark Electric Vehicle. In addition to leading the Spark EV team, Jay worked to develop GM’s future electrified vehicle strategy. Jay received an MBA from Indiana University, MS in Engineering from Purdue University, and BS in Mechanical Engineering from Western Michigan University.

Adrian Fortino | Partner, Mercury Fund & Co-Founder, FlockTAG

Areas of expertise: Healthcare, transportation and industrial applications


Adrian is an experienced founder, operator, engineer and investor in the industrial and transportation technology sector.

Most recently Adrian was the Managing Director of Detroit Innovate and the First Step Fund based in Detroit, Michigan. The First Step Fund is a micro-investment, industry agnostic fund focused very early stage companies in Southeast Michigan. Detroit Innovate is a seed stage investment fund targeting technology cultivation and seed investments in enabling technologies in healthcare, transportation and industrial applications.

He also co-founded three software companies: Shepherd IS, Sidecar and FlockTAG. Shepherd IS provides a fleet management software platform for the livery industry and was a University of Michigan Technology Transfer spin out company. Sidecar is an instant rideshare marketplace connecting drivers and riders in metropolitan areas. FlockTAG provides consumer behavior prediction tools to independent small businesses through a novel analytics platform.

Adrian also spent eight years in several roles at Ricardo Inc. Ricardo is a global engineering consultancy focusing on the automotive, cleantech, military and industrial sectors. Adrian was an engine combustion and emissions specialist and led several advanced engine and hybrid powertrain development projects. He left as the Manager of Powertrain Development division which encompassed P&L, engineering and global project responsibilities.

Adrian holds a BSE in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan and an MBA with High Distinction from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

He is the industry lead of the University of Michigan Law School Venture Capital Fellows Program. Adrian also leads the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan sponsored Entrepreneur Gives program which bridges high potential entrepreneurs across the region to give grants to unique socially minded projects.

Tom Frank | Executive Director, Center for Entrepreneurship, University of Michigan

Areas of expertise: Business strategy, planning & idea validation


Tom Frank is an entrepreneurial executive with more than 25 years of leadership building top tier companies in the advertising, entertainment, and technology sectors. Tom began his career with Procter & Gamble and went on to senior roles at Dick Clark Productions and RealNetworks. From his experience, Tom is considered one of a handful of true “digital media experts” due to his global accomplishments in content production, licensing, and marketing across all distribution platforms in both traditional and IP based broadcast channels. He has successfully developed and produced television programming for all of the major television networks as well as launching the first web-based content subscription service. In recent years Tom’s career focus has been building revenue generating business models for emerging SAAS platforms and new technologies. He also advises a number of Silicon Valley start-ups on all aspects of IP development and commercialization, licensing, business strategy, and team-building. Tom received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Cincinnati. He is active on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards.

Matt Gibson | Director of Undergraduate Programs, Center for Entrepreneurship, University of Michigan

Areas of expertise: Development of new business strategies and product development


Matt enjoys his roles as a leader, teacher, team player and innovator. As a University of Michigan instructor in the undergraduate practicum course, Matt works with hundreds of entrepreneurial students with a strong emphasis on developing experiential learning opportunities. He truly believes in hands-on learning and getting students outside of the classroom and out of their comfort-zone. Matt has developed a valuable combination of technical and business expertise through a broad set of experiences. He has led product development, performed market analysis, managed intellectual property and developed new business strategies.

Nancy Benovich Gilby | Ehrenberg Director of Entrepreneurship & Clinical Professor, School of Information, University of Michigan

Areas of expertise: Startups, mobile applications and product strategy


Nancy led Asurion Mobile Applications as VP of Engineering, serving 100 + million users of her team’s mobile data cloud services. By the time she left, she lead the team that supported Asurion mobile apps on every US carrier, every phone. Nancy has previously founded and/or led products for 9 successful startups using a unique, integrated approach to company and market development, including raising 12 rounds of venture funding. Nancy’s product development methodology has generated three case studies at the Harvard Business School. Her leadership in product strategy and development contributed to Firefly, the first online web community site, a spin out of the MIT Media Laboratory, purchased by Microsoft; Wildfire, first voice-based personal, mobile, voice-based assistant, purchased by Orange; Component Software, as co-founder, was folded into Sun to become what is Java today; and On Technology, developers of the first group scheduling application, Meeting Maker as well as a successful public company, later purchased by Symantec.

James Goebel | Chief Architect/Partner, Menlo Innovations

Areas of expertise: Building exceptional user interface design teams, Product management, Certified Project Management Professional (PMP), Rational Unified Process (RUP), Extreme Programming (XP), Software Architecture, Organizational Development within IT teams, Public Speaking


James helps the management team at Menlo Innovations identify prospective clients with whom they can partner with to build exceptional products. To demonstrate a commitment to success and confidence in the work they produce, their preferred financial model defers revenue in exchange for an upside that is tied to the product’s success in the market place. James has a background in software engineering and business management to help guide the selected projects to success.

Sarika Gupta | Managing Director, Zell Lurie Institute, University of Michigan

Areas of expertise: Startups, program management, pitching competitions


Sarika leads the development and execution of the Zell Lurie Institute’s student-oriented programs including the Mayleben Venture Shaping and Dare to Dream Startup Grants, Michigan Business Challenge, and Startup Workshop Series. In this role she also coaches and mentors U-M student teams to help students advance their businesses. Sarika has extensive start-up experience as a manager, mentor, and coach. She served as President & CEO of Dance Telephone – a group party game, COO of V-teractive – an online gaming start-up, and Associate at – a site that delivers exclusive digital access to music fans. Additionally, she was a Senior Quantitative Research Associate at Cambridge Associates for 3 years. Sarika serves on the Board of Directors of the New Enterprise Forum. She holds a BSE in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan College of Engineering and an MBA from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

Sam Harrell | Research Director, NBCUniversal Media Labs (New York, NY)

Areas of expertise: Hacker-in-residence. Writing code from embedded devices, desktop applications, mobile devices and the web


Sam was our Hacker-in-Residence but has recently moved to NY to work for NBCUniversal. He has offered to remain a mentor for TechArb as he enjoyed working closely with the startup teams. He has been writing software for 15 years and has written code for everything from embedded devices to desktop application, mobile devices, the web and beyond. He is currently working on indoor mapping solutions combining hardware, software and the cloud.

Brian Hayden | President & Co-Founder, HeatSpring

Areas of expertise: Customer selection, B2B sales, startups


Being a student entrepreneur is hard. As an undergrad, Brian helped launch an online travel platform that didn’t last long. Six years later he co-founded HeatSpring as an MBA student at Babson College. This led to some incredibly valuable lessons in running that company for seven years. “”Finding Your Venture”” a course taught by Brian and offered through the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship. It’s a shortcut to help students find better opportunities and increase their odds of launching a company that survives, with an emphasis on customer selection and business-to-business sales.

Evonna Karchon | Director of Operations, IncWell LLC

Areas of expertise: Product development, project management & operations


Evonna is the Director of Operations at IncWell VC where she handles the day to day operations of the fund including technology segment advancement, company assessment and due diligence. She gained product development experience as a lead project manager for Stage 2 Innovations, a $100m late stage fund. At the fund, Evonna worked with a multi functional R&D team to bring the product to commercialization.

Evonna gained additional experience in market research and financial modeling while working for Tom LaSorda, the Former Chrysler CEO, at the LaSorda Group in Birmingham, MI. Prior to that she was a Market Analyst at CFI Group.

Karchon received a bachelor of arts degree from Albion College in Economics & Management & Communication and graduated with honors.

Kelly LaPierre | Managing Director, Desai Accelerator

Areas of expertise: Early stage startups, pitching & fundraising


Kelly is the Managing Director for the Desai Family Accelerator, launched in partnership by the Zell Lurie Institute and the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship. Kelly has progressive experience working on startups, mentoring and coaching. She most recently served as the Director of Marketing and Operations at Detroit’s startup Grand Circus, a training institute that elevates the region’s tech community and is funded by Dan Gilbert’s venture capital firm, Detroit Venture Partners. Over the past few years, Kelly has worked with a variety of startup companies at the Boston-based investment fund TechStars and at the Detroit-based entrepreneurship accelerator Bizdom. Kelly has a BA from the University of Michigan and a MBA from Harvard Business School.

Brandon H. McNaughton, PhD | Managing Partner, Akadeum Life Sciences & Instructor, Center for Entrepreneurship, University of Michigan

Areas of expertise: Early-stage technology development, startups, idea to implementation


As a tech entrepreneur, scientist and inventor, Brandon has devoted his career to adding value to early-stage technology development and startup companies. He focuses on taking innovations from the idea stage to implementation. In this effort, he has founded two tech startups: venture capital-backed Life Magnetics, Inc. and Akadeum Life Sciences, Inc. He currently serves as President and CEO of Akadeum. He also teaches the entrepreneurship practicum at the University of Michigan (UM) Center for Entrepreneurship.

Leading up to the founding of Akadeum, Brandon worked as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Detroit Innovate—an early-stage venture capital fund at Invest Detroit—and also as an Adjunct Research Scientist in the UM Department of Emergency Medicine.

In previous roles, he formed and led interdisciplinary research teams. Having performed award-winning research, Brandon received his PhD in Applied Physics from UM in 2007 and a BS in Physics from Cal State Bakersfield in 2002.

Doug Neal | Co-Founder & Managing Director, Michigan eLab

Areas of expertise: Early-stage startups & Venture Capital


Doug Neal has over 20 years of technology industry experience including founding, operating, board, investing, venture accelerator management and entrepreneurial education. In 2009, Doug became Managing Director of the University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship, during which time he transformed the organization to include a world-class university startup accelerator (TechArb) which has since launched almost 100 student ventures, grew enrollment in entrepreneurial programs to more than 5,000 students per year and was instrumental in developing a process for teaching entrepreneurial programs to engineering and non-engineering students. Doug is a regular lecturer at the University in entrepreneurial studies as well as a frequent guest speaker and panelist in the Michigan entrepreneurial ecosystem. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Central Michigan University.

Emily Puckett Rodgers | Entrepreneurship Program Manager, School of Information, University of Michigan

Areas of expertise: Startups & program management


Emily Puckett Rodgers is the School of Information Entrepreneurship Program Manager. She helps to develop the school’s entrepreneurial curriculum and to create learning opportunities for enrolled students around entrepreneurship and innovation. Prior to this position, Emily was a special projects librarian at the U-M Library, working directly under the Associate University Librarians for Research, Learning and Teaching, and Operations. In this position, she developed strategic recommendations and supported major initiatives to effectively support 21st century research and learning needs at U-M. In 2013, she received Library Journal’s Movers and Shakers award for Innovation for her coordination of the Open.Michigan initiative, which develops digital educational content that can be technically and legally reused and adapted in a global learning environment. She has over ten years experience working in public and academic libraries and in nonprofits. In 2004, she co-founded Art Amiss, an arts nonprofit based in Arkansas which supports and celebrates artists from or living in Arkansas. Emily currently serves on the board of A2Geeks, a local nonprofit that supports tech and creative culture in SE Michigan. In this role, she coordinates the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire and Ignite Ann Arbor.

Mark Shalinsky | Senior Manager Sales Operations, Duo Security

Areas of expertise: Sales process, forecasting, metrics, revenue goals and buyer personas


“An experienced, process oriented start-up sales operator, Mark combines quantitative and qualitative techniques, identifying market sweet spots and cultivating sales reps into power-players, closing bigger deals faster.

Mark’s experience with early stage start-up started with the Boston based The Journal of Visualized Experiments ( As the first and only member of the sales team, Mark was instrumental in growing annual revenue from nothing to $10M, by developing the telemarketing and conference sales processes, building up the publishing sales team, sales to libraries team, and the B2B sales team. Most recently, Mark was brought into Duo Security in 2012 as the first (and again only) full time sales rep to manage sales operations. Throughout his tenure at Duo Security, Mark has trained sales reps, defined processes for sales, forecasting, metrics, revenue goals, territories, and buyer personas.

Mark earned a PhD in Neurology & Neurosurgery from McGill University and can be seen driving around town in his DIY electric 1980 Porsche Targa to local wrestling, Judo or BJJ clubs.”

Richard Sheridan | CEO & Chief Storyteller, Menlo Innovations & Author of Joy, Inc.

Areas of expertise: Storytelling, software design & development, creating a team culture and organizational design


From kid programmer in 1971 to Forbes cover story in 2003, Joy, Inc. author Richard Sheridan (U-M grad BS Computer Science ’80, MS Computer Engineering ’82) has never shied from challenges, opportunities nor the limelight. While his focus has always been around technology, his passion is actually process, teamwork and organizational design, with one inordinately popular goal: the Business Value of Joy! Sheridan is an avid reader and historian, and his software design and development team at Menlo Innovations didn’t invent a new culture, but copied an old one … Edison’s Menlo Park New Jersey lab. Henry Ford’s recreation of the Menlo Park Lab in Greenfield Village was a childhood inspiration!

Some call it agile, some call it lean … Sheridan and his team call it joyful. And it produces results, business and otherwise. Five Inc. magazine revenue growth awards, invites to the White House, speaking engagements around the nation, numerous articles and culture awards and so much interest they are doing a tour a day of the Menlo Software Factory™.