The VENN team is based upon a simple but powerful idea: effective strategies are created through the integration of financial and operational business planning and compelling consumer value propositions. Our holistic approach requires a collaborative team of highly skilled experts across management consulting, customer experience design, technology, digital consulting, brand strategy and design.




Mikel is a recognized expert in consumer-led brand positioning and innovation. With twenty-five years of experience leading retail branding and product development agencies Retail Planning Associates and Fitch, and having served as Chief Marketing Officer for Select Comfort Corporation, Mike develops strategic and creative solutions that resonate with target consumers and are competitively differentiating for brands.

Over the course of his career, Mike has partnered with brands including Calvin Klein, Donna Karen, Levi Strauss, BCBG, Diesel, Wrangler, Adidas, Nike, Target, Federated Department Stores, Breville, Disney, Universal Studios, Playboy Enterprises, Apple, Hewlett Packard, Sony, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Virgin Atlantic, to name just a few. His work has taken him around the world with engagements in seventeen countries. The International Retail Council and DDI Magazine named Mike one of the “40 Most Influential People in Retail”. He is a keynote speaker at leading industry events, and his perspectives have been featured on CNN, CNBC, Sky Radio and in Time Magazine and Business Week.

Mike joined the faculty of The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business in 2008 where he developed MBA and executive education - level courses in innovation and brand marketing. Fisher MBA students awarded Mike the James L. Ginter Award for excellence in teaching in 2010, and again in 2011. Mike also served as the Founder and Executive Director of The Ohio State University Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship where he was responsible for corporate relationships, and curricular and extra-curricular innovation and entrepreneurship - based programming across the undergraduate, graduate and executive education programs.

Mike serves on the boards of Best Buddies Ohio and CINCO - The Community Investment Network of Ohio.

Mike resides in Columbus, Ohio with his wife Megan, and a dog named Henry. Mike and Megan have two grown daughters, Madeline and Claire.

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Dirk Defenbaugh


For close to thirty years, Dirk has led the development of marketing and brand strategies with many of the world’s leading brands.  He has been deeply involved with all facets of the marketing mix from brand strategy, consumer engagement, media planning and creative development. 

Throughout his career, Dirk has been a consultant to retail brands including Walmart, Target, CVS, UPS, Starbucks.  CPG brands have included: P&G, HP, SC Johnson, PepsiCo, Nike, and J&J.  Dirk has also worked in the healthcare sector for Eli Lilly, Gilead, Humana, and Novartis. 

 Dirk has worked in all corners of the globe including emerging markets such as Russia, Lithuania and Slovakia as well as established markets throughout Europe, South America and Asia.  Dirk has served on the Advisory Board for VMS&D magazine, been a speaker at more than 20 conferences and events and has been quoted in Forbes, Chain Store Age, The New York Post DDI Magazine and many others.  Dirk has been a guest lecturer at The Ohio State University, Columbus, College of Art and Design, The University of Dayton, and The University of Cincinnati.

 Dirk served as the CEO of Interbrand Design Forum and has held senior leadership roles at companies including Fitch, Retail Planning Associates, Inventiv Health, Kantar Retail and Big Red Rooster.  He has also worked on the client side for Liberty Mutual, serving in progressive management roles and was named Manager of the Year.

 Dirk served for close to ten years as a judge for the International Big Ten Business Case Competition and has volunteered his time as a mentor in the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University MBA program.

 Dirk resides in Columbus, Ohio with his wife Christine, his children Michael and Erica and his two dogs, Atticus and Remy.






We work with brands which are at the intersection of innovation and growth - mostly on a referral basis.

We have unique insight to the challenges faced by middle market companies, and have deep expertise in retail, apparel, consumer packaged goods, and food & beverage manufacturing.

We also collaborate with growing companies on behalf of private equity firms at the initial point of investment, with start-ups following a carve out, or as part of a roll up.





An electronic diagnostic tool for efficiently and comprehensively initiating each engagement. Includes input from key stakeholders and a checklist of desired data, which also identifies gaps in research.


Top-line documentation of each scenario including all relevant qualitative and quantitative data illustrated through imagery, graphs and charts detailing pertinent financial and operational data, the consumer value proposition, and brand essence.  


An image based portrait that brings each scenario to life, and that illustrates the differences between target consumers and lifestyles, product offer and assortment, and distribution and brand essence. Provides consistent articulation of each scenario and aids in decision making while forcing consideration of strategic trade offs.





Community matters, so we joined the Pledge1% corporate philanthropy movement.

VENN, along with Yelp, Yahoo and hundreds of other leading brands donates 1% of our annual revenues and time to help others grow and prosper.