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

Kurt Baumgarten | November 18, 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 | November 18, 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.

Stefon Crawford | November 11, 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.


Chris Kaufman | November 18, 2023

A strategic, serial entrepreneur and a compassionate, creative leader, Chris Kaufman has over twenty years of experience in brand building, marketing creative, and product design. Named one of Techweek’s “100 Most Influential People in Technology in Detroit” twice, his multidisciplinary approach has led to a successful track record building world-class teams and lucrative, game-changing businesses. He’s the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of StockX, a revolutionary, global e-commerce platform lauded as the world’s first “Stock Market of Things,” where he built a full-service, in-house creative agency from the ground up. Recently valued at $3.8 billion, StockX has created over 1,500 jobs around the world, many of which are in Detroit. Kaufman been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes, earning accolades from the Webby Awards, TechCrunch, WebAward, Word of Mouth Marketing Association, and Michigan Venture Capital Association for his innovative work at the nexus of leading edge design, user experience, and current culture brands. Kaufman. Kaufman began his career at the forefront of the e-commerce revolution, a versatile designer crafting award-winning user experiences through web and app design and marketing creative. After earning a BFA in Graphic Design from Eastern Michigan University, he honed his design acumen as the Interactive Design Director at Quicken Loans, then took a position as Professor of Graphic Communication at Baker College, mentoring entrepreneurial and design students in Southeast Michigan. Over the next few years, Kaufman co-founded several successful venture-backed startups, including Quizzle, where he served as Creative Director, and UpTo, where he served as Chief Creative Officer, developing extensive entrepreneurial expertise and a keen understanding of customer behavior. He worked as Vice President of User Experience for Shift Digital before joining the Advisory Board at GameAbove, a dedicated team of notable Eastern Michigan University alumni gathering funding (over $20 million since 2019), resources, and support for EMU and the surrounding Ypsilanti community.

 Francis Glorie | November 11, 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 | November 11, 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.

Ali Solouk | November 18, 2023

Dr. Ali Solouk, MBA, is the Manager of Strategic Investments at Ford Motor Company. With a diverse background as a venture investor, advisor, and engineer, Ali has been mainly in tech and mobility industries for 10+ years. As a product development engineer and data scientist, Ali worked on popular Electric Vehicle nameplates such as Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lightening. His recent focus has been leading business development and partnerships for a growth stage startup in the smart accessories space incubated at Ford Next.


Committed to driving positive global change through entrepreneurship, Ali collaborates with mission-oriented institutions fostering economic growth in Detroit and Michigan. Actively engaged in the VC and startup community, he provides mentorship to early-stage startups.