We are fortunate to have such a high caliber panel of judges for the Venture Challenge Final. 

Kurt Baumgarten | March 25, 2023

Kurt Baumgarten is a Partner with GM Ventures. Kurt has been involved in Michigan’s investment and entrepreneurial communities for most of his career. In 2014, Kurt co-founded Applied Licensing, LLC, an angel investment organization specializing in the development and monetization of intellectual property. As Vice President & General Counsel, Kurt oversaw operations, sourced investment opportunities and managed deal flow, conducted due diligence, drafted and negotiated deal terms, aided in the development and execution of intellectual property strategy, and engaged with portfolio companies in a variety of ways to contribute towards their success. Kurt is a founding member of the Pointe Angels investment club and served as the group’s Lead for over three years. As Lead, he managed deal flow, organized monthly pitch meetings, and supported members throughout the process of engaging with, vetting, and closing investment opportunities. Kurt is also a board member of the New Enterprise Forum.

Kurt holds a BA in Public Policy from the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and a JD from the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Jim Bennethum | March 25, 2023

Jim Bennethum is a Principal & General Partner of Hibiscus BioVentures and a seasoned Venture Capital and Family Office leader. Jim has served as a trusted advisor to ultra-high net worth individuals with investments in the life science, automotive, retail, and venture capital sectors.

An accomplished senior executive with an exceptional track record in profitable growth for global automotive and technology companies (global P&L > $3B per annum). Transformative operations leader with extensive international cross-cultural expertise in strategic planning, sales, business development, operations, M&A, restructuring, talent and emerging market development. Jim was honored by Johnson Controls as The Chairman’s Award Winner for leading his team to be the first in the company’s 135+ year history to book more than $1B of new business in one fiscal year. Expert in risk management, crisis preparedness and business continuity planning.

Philanthropic leadership roles as Vice-Chairman of the Board of the Karmanos Cancer Institute and as Chairman of the Board of the Karmanos Cancer Foundation as well as a member of the Board of the Karmanos Cancer Center. Jim holds a Bachelor of Applied Science from EMU.

Prem Bodagala | March 25, 2023

Prem Bodagala is Director at Michigan Rise, the early-stage investment fund backed by the State of Michigan and administered by the Michigan State University Foundation. He also serves as Director at Red Cedar Ventures, the early-stage investment arm and wholly owned subsidiary of MSU Foundation. Prem has been an active, sector-agnostic investor in Michigan’s tech startup scene for over ten years, first at Michigan Accelerator Fund I, then Invest Michigan and now at Red Cedar Ventures and Michigan Rise. He has had the privilege of backing over a hundred disruptive and high growth companies which have gone on to syndicate over $1B in venture capital. Prem also served a stint at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation where he oversaw a portfolio of investments by the Michigan Strategic Fund in several venture funds as well as technology startups. He is passionate about working with tech entrepreneurs and believes tech entrepreneurship has great potential to be the driver of positive disruptive change in society and harbinger of economic prosperity.

Prem has a Masters in Information from the University of Michigan where he studied Health Informatics and Human Computer Interaction.  He also has a Bachelors and Masters in Business Administration from Western Michigan University and Grand Valley State University respectively.


Stefon Crawford | March 18, 2023

Stefon Crawford is a Principal Investor for GM Ventures (GMV) General Motors venture capital fund. His track record includes 63 private placement transactions totaling $198M invested in early-stage companies. He is serving as a Board Observer on four portfolio companies working on technology/innovation around; Fintech, Mobility, Encryption, and EV Battery Recycling. 

Stefon graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2010 with a Bachelors in Business Administration. He also holds Executive Certificates In Venture Capital and Negotiation from Wharton Business School, UC Berkeley, and Harvard Business School. This will also be his 5th year serving as an EMU Executive Mentor at the University.

 Francis Glorie | March 25, 2023

International executive and entrepreneur with multi-country, multi cultural experience in leadership/general management and diverse functional line management ( business development, sales & marketing, finance) in high technology (IT/Life Sciences/Medical Devices), rapid growth environments for hardware, software and distribution companies. Demonstrated success in quickly assessing business situations and providing direction to firms in varied markets/industries.
• Repeated experience in creating international B2B commercial teams (end user, OEM, and channel), legal structures and distribution networks.
• Multiple leadership roles in business start-up and acceleration, capital formation (venture capital, bank loans and initial public offerings), financial exit and post merger integration.
• Experienced in complete financial, legal and administrative management of public, SEC regulated company.
• Led three companies to turnaround (including balance sheet restructuring) with rapid growth in sales and profit.
• Negotiated mergers, acquisitions and product licensing.
• Team builder and player with track record at developing and motivating staff. 


Margarita Hernandez | March 18, 2023

Margarita is the vice president of entrepreneurial services at Ann Arbor SPARK. After completing her BS degree in Microbiology and Immunology in 2009 from the University of Texas at San Antonio, she moved to Ann Arbor from her hometown of Austin. It was here that she earned a doctorate in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from the University of Michigan in 2016.

Following graduate school, she joined Fast Forward Medical Innovation at the University of Michigan supporting healthcare commercialization education courses and mentoring biomedical innovation projects for medical students and clinicians. Later catching the entrepreneur bug, Margarita joined a budding medical device and software startup, Pathware, where she supported both clinical business development and later operations as the chief operations officer.

Given her entrepreneur experiences and passion to mentor and work on critical problems, she now promotes growing startups through their milestones with the resources and services offered by SPARK.

Zach Wigal | March 18, 2023

Zach Wigal is the founder of Gamers Outreach, a charity that provides activities to children in hospitals through the power of video games and the gaming community. To date, Gamers Outreach programs enable more than 4.5 million moments of play for hospitalized families across 400 healthcare facilities each year. In addition to video games, Wigal is the founder of Detroit Pizza Depot, a new food company in Los Angeles dedicated to sharing Detroit-Style Pizza with the world. Wigal has been recognized as a 2019 CNN Hero and was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list (2017) for his work in the games-for-health space. In 2021 he was honored with the Outstanding Young Alumni Award from Eastern Michigan University. And most recently, Wigal and his team won 4 CLIO Awards, including 1 GRAND CLIO, in celebration of a longstanding philanthropic partnership with Xbox.