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Michigan Native Returns, Contributes to Ann Arbor Startup Economy

February 8, 2022 Talent
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Ann Arbor is a dynamic center of innovation and entrepreneurship — one that is sustained by a network of public, private, and academic organizations. Since Alison Todak returned to Michigan from Washington, D.C. in 2015, she has played a critical role within Ann Arbor’s entrepreneurial ecosystem helping create, fund, and grow startups. Today, Alison is applying her vast experience at Plymouth Growth as the director of platform.

Alison grew up on the west side of Michigan and was attracted to politics at an early age. After earning her degree from Western University in American public policy with minors in economics and communication, she moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue her career.  Alison quickly landed a position working on Capitol Hill with Senator Carl Levin’s Office. “He was a really great senator to work for,” described Alison. “He loved working with and for the people of Michigan. It was wonderful to have those ties back home.”

When Senator Levin announced his retirement, Alison had to determine what she wanted to do next. “While I loved my D.C. career, I found the thing that made me excited to show up every day was serving the people of my home state,” she reflected. “I began exploring opportunities that included economic development and policymaking back in Michigan.”

Coming from a metropolitan area, Alison focused her search in the southeast area of the state where there is a more urban environment, “I was equal opportunity between Detroit and Ann Arbor, depending on what opportunities I found.” She accepted a position at the recently created University of Michigan’s Desai Accelerator, a program that invested in early stage tech companies and helped businesses grow and scale. Through this work, Alison quickly fell in love with Ann Arbor, “I realized how great the startup community was here. It had strong roots locally with still so much opportunity to grow.”

For Alison, working at Desai was a very hands-on way to support economic development. “I loved it,” she said. “It served as my own personal entrepreneurial boot camp and a great introduction to Ann Arbor’s startup ecosystem. In addition to helping these companies fundraise and scale, it was a great way for me to help attract tech-forward companies and talent to this region.”

It was only natural that Alison’s next career move was to work for a startup. “The founders of Cahoots had this beautiful vision and they needed someone who could operate and execute on it,” she stated. “It was perfectly aligned with development of the area, attracting talent, and creating a destination for folks in tech and for companies to come to Ann Arbor.”

While she was working at Cahoots, Alison also helped establish Shine & Rise, a regional networking organization where women and non-binary individuals in tech can network and find support. “While building Desai and Cahoots and witnessing other scaling tech companies grow, I realized what a lack of female representation there was in the industry. I often felt I was on my own and was expending a lot of energy finding mentors and peers who looked like me,” said Alison. “A friend at Ann Arbor SPARK suggested I grab coffee with someone who expressed similar experiences. Together with a few others, we decided to stand up this organization.”

Eventually, Alison found herself missing the “one-to-many” approach and funding opportunities that the Desai Accelerator had provided and sought out her next position. Through her relationships with investors in the area, she found her way to Plymouth Growth where she’s now the director of platform.

In this role, Alison focuses on providing support for Plymouth’s portfolio companies and leading efforts across marketing, communications, and overall community building. “Plymouth Growth has traditionally had a Midwest investment focus, partially because of its own geography and history. Now with “work-from-anywhere” and a Toronto-based company in the portfolio, the investment focus has expanded to anything midcontinent,” she explained. Because of this concentration of underserved geographies, Plymouth Growth can focus on founders and companies that aren’t getting the attention of coastal investors — yet. “Plymouth has a great opportunity to invest in scaling tech companies before other, larger growth equity firms catch on,” Alison continued. “Our team really loves the work ethic that our founders have. They are capital-efficient, they’re smart, and it doesn’t take a huge check to successfully scale a company here.”

Outside of her work experience, Alison is happy to call Ann Arbor home. “I’ve been shocked and very happy to find so many other boomerangs and transplants like myself who moved to the area after living elsewhere. We celebrate that shared experience of appreciating our urban past while loving the town we’re in.” Alison went on to describe that, “Ann Arbor has a little bit of everything, there’s diversity in restaurants, activities, and entertainment. I really feel like I have access to those big-city experiences while living in a beautiful area with parks and outdoor opportunities.”