TechTown Detroit names eight talented business and community leaders to its board of directors

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Jamilla Thompson, partner, Business Consulting, at EY,  appointed chair of TechTown’s Executive Committee

Jan. 23, 2023

TechTown Detroit has elected eight new talented business and community leaders to its Board of Directors for three-year terms. In addition, Jamilla Thompson, partner, Business Consulting, at EY, was appointed to another one-year term as the chair of TechTown’s Executive Committee.

“With a new year comes new opportunity, and we are thrilled to have these eight incredible individuals join our Board,” said Ned Staebler, vice president for economic development at Wayne State University and president and CEO of TechTown Detroit. “We are so fortunate to have an organization that, from the very top, is comprised of talented leaders who not only live and breathe our mission of equitable economic development in Detroit, but who also represent our values of diversity and inclusion.”

The new members join TechTown at an exciting time for the nonprofit business service organization. Named a Crain’s Detroit Business Coolest Places to Work in 2022 and Best Managed Nonprofit in 2021, TechTown has experienced exponential growth in the last few years. In 2022, TechTown was awarded major grants from the Gilbert Family Foundation and the Build Back Better Regional Challenge for its Venture 313 and Global Epicenter of Mobility partnerships. The organization also launched its Catalyst Angel Program, recruiting 67 emerging investors who identify as Black and/or women from across the Great Lakes region to learn about expanding capital in the ecosystem. In 2022 alone, TechTown supported 749 entrepreneurs who created 94 new jobs and raised more than $34,092,045 in startup and growth capital.

The new board members are:


Dean, College of Engineering, Wayne State University

Prior to becoming dean of the College of Engineering at Wayne State University in 2022, Ali Abolmaali served as chair of the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Texas at Arlington for 10 years. He was also the Dr. Tseng Huang Endowed Professor in Structural Engineering and Applied Mechanics, the founding director of the UTA Center for Structural Engineering Research and the professor-in-charge of the Structural Simulation Laboratory at UTA. Abolmaali has extensive research experience in computational structural engineering and full-scale structural testing of civil, aerospace and underground structural systems, including research in fluid-structure interaction problems and biomechanics. He has conducted several high-profile failure investigation research projects for the National Transportation Safety Board. As a principal investigator, he has secured more than $38 million in development and research funds from local, state and federal agencies and corporations.


Principal, Beringea

Ben Bernstein is a seasoned finance and investment professional who started his career in investment banking at UBS’s Global Consumer Products & Retail Group. After five years on Wall Street, he spent another three years as a VC investor for an NYC-based fund focused on job creation, economic development and local innovation. He then spent over three years helping build two different startups in New York City. Bernstein also served as principal at Invest Detroit Ventures, where he managed their new investment pipeline and diligence process, completing over 20 new deals in two years. Bernstein now serves as a principal at Beringea. A native of Los Angeles, Bernstein graduated from Princeton with a bachelor’s in economics and a certificate in political economy.


Partner, Varnum Law

Matt Bower serves as outside general counsel to a wide range of emerging and middle market companies. His particular industry concentrations include software, SaaS, information technology, IoT, data analytics and other technology-based companies, as well as manufacturing, automotive, advanced materials, pharma, medical devices, publishing, digital advertising and media, retail, and food and beverage. He works closely with companies from cradle (formation and organization) to liquidity (sale or merger) and all stages of development in between. Bower is a member of the Business and Corporate Practice Team, and participates in the Intellectual Property, the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity, and the Venture Capital and Emerging Companies practice teams. He is also the lead partner of Varnum Law’s Ann Arbor office.


President, Technology Industry Group, Bank of Ann Arbor

Michael Cole is the president and founder of the Technology Industry Group at Bank of Ann Arbor, a specialized banking practice that provides financing and banking services to technology and life sciences businesses and venture capital firms. Prior to joining Bank of Ann Arbor, Cole spent nearly two decades in California as an entrepreneur and co-founder of one of the nation’s leading technology sector corporate banking practices. He is the past president and founder of the Ann Arbor Angels private investment group and has served as the board chair of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, Leslie Science & Nature Center and Ozone House. Cole is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Southern California Graduate School of Business, holds a degree in finance from Michigan State University and is a long-standing member of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor.


Chief Executive Officer, Naturalicious Beauty Products and Good Hair Bar Salon & Spa

Gwen Jimmere is a gifted visionary on an unrelenting mission to challenge the standard of beauty. As CEO of both Naturalicious Beauty Products and Good Hair Bar Salon and Spa, she leads a beauty empire that creates high-performing, time-saving beauty solutions that have collectively saved over 80,000 women more than 1.2 million minutes on their beauty routines. She’s cemented her place in history as the first African American woman to hold a patent for natural haircare products, and her products can be found in over 100 countries around the world and over 1,200 retail stores, including Ulta, Whole Foods and Sally Beauty. Named “the world’s leading authority on textured hair care,” she is an EY Entrepreneur of the Year winner and has been named one of the 100 Most Influential African Americans in the U.S., a Top 10 Business woman in the U.S. and a Crain’s 40 Under 40.


Dean, Mike Ilitch School of Business, Wayne State University

Virginia Kleist became dean of the Wayne State University Mike Ilitch School of

Business in 2022. Kleist came to Wayne State from West Virginia University, where she served as the associate dean of graduate programs, research and academic affairs and as a professor of management information systems within the John Chambers College of Business and Economics. Previously, she served as director of the M.B.A./M.S. in management information systems dual degree program at the University of Pittsburgh. Kleist is a three-time Fulbright Specialist award winner, having taught in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, and Ufa, Russia, for two of those awards. Before her academic career, Kleist spent 10 years in telecommunications network management at PNC, Allegheny Health Education and Research Foundation, Joy Technologies and GTE (now Verizon). Kleist holds a Ph.D. and master’s in MIS and a master’s in economics from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.B.A. from Marquette University. She did her undergraduate work in economics and history at Duke University.


Vice President of Care Delivery and President & CEO, TRIARQ Health

Michael Sappington is vice president of care delivery and president of a new BCBS subsidiary, TRIARQ Health, where he was previously CEO for seven years. Before TRIARQ, Sappington was the CEO of gloSTREAM, Inc., an electronic medical records software and practice management solutions startup, from 2006–2014. Earlier in his career, Sappington was partner and COO of Michigan-based Netrex Secure Solutions, which was purchased by Internet Security Systems and is now part of IBM. Netrex Secure Solutions remains one of the largest managed security services firms across the globe. Sappington sits on the Detroit Country Day School Board of Trustees. He has worked in the startup space for almost three decades and calls himself “a serial entrepreneur.” He has his bachelor’s in finance from Central Michigan University and lives in Bloomfield Hills.


Vice President, Supplier Diversity, Henry Ford Health

Valencia Stoudamire is a dynamic business professional with over 20 years of purchasing and multi-level relationship building experience in the automotive and healthcare sectors. She currently serves as the vice president of supplier diversity for Henry Ford Health in Detroit. In 2021, Stoudamire represented HFH as a fellow with CEO Action for Racial Equity, a year-long fellowship focused on developing legislative and corporate policy to address systemic racism within the Black community. Stoudamire has served on the Crossroads of Michigan Board of Trustees and is a member of Michigan’s premier professional women’s alliance, Inforum. Stoudamire enjoys serving on the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Classical Roots Steering Committee and is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Jack and Jill of America. She also serves on the planning committee for the Stoudamire Wellness Hub, a wellness and resilience hub for residents in Detroit named in honor of her late husband, Marlowe.