EMPOWERMENT DAY
2022

SPEAKERS & INDUSTRY EXPERT MENTORS

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS

April Showers

April Showers

Founder & CEO — Afro Unicorn™

April Showers is Founder and CEO of Afro Unicorn™, a brand designed to represent the uniqueness of women of color in a truly diverse and inclusive fashion. She is a lead-by-example creator who works to uplift, advocate and inspire women of color to achieve greatness. April is focused on fusing her passions with her life’s purpose to help other female entrepreneurs on their journey. 

An established real estate agent and insurance business owner, April has always had the entrepreneurial spirit. She was inspired to start Afro Unicorn™ following a conversation with a close friend who referred to her as a “unicorn” for her ability to balance her two business ventures, her children and a bustling personal life, while still being motivated to do more.  

This prompted April to use her new favorite emoji, the unicorn, which is only available in white, and lacks representation. She worked with a graphic designer to create a unicorn of her likeness, and in turn created multiple shades to represent a range of women of color - and Afro Unicorn™ was born. The brand of apparel, accessories and party supplies is meant to inspire and remind women of color how unique, divine and magical we truly are. With the May 2022 Walmart launch, April Showers’ Afro Unicorn™ brand is a true pioneer - the first female, Black-owned business to launch in Celebrations at Walmart stores nationwide. 

Jessica Chen 200by200

Jessica Chen

CEO — Soulcast Media

Jessica Chen is an Emmy-Award winner, top virtual keynote speaker, and CEO of the global communications training agency, Soulcast Media. The company trains Fortune 100 companies, global teams, and individuals on presentation, executive presence and communications messaging. She works with companies such as Google, LinkedIn, the CDC, Medtronic, HP, DraftKings, and many more. Prior to starting Soulcast Media, Jessica was a broadcast television journalist. She was awarded an Emmy-Award for her work at ABC

10News. Jessica is also a top LinkedIn Learning Instructor where her communications courses have been watched by over 1 million learners. Her course, “Developing Executive Presence on Video Calls” was ranked #1 among leaders worldwide in 2021 by LinkedIn. Jessica is also the Chief Creative Officer of the world’s first boba card game, Sabobatage, which she started with her brother. The game is now in over 15,000 households and is creating fun and meaningful conversations around Asian culture in America.

INVENTOR RELATIONS REVIEWERS + MENTORS

More will be announced soon.
AlanGong

INVENTOR RELATIONS

Alan Gong — VP of Product Development, Basic Fun!

Gained degree in Graphic Design and held positions in ‘below the line’ agencies until the opportunity to join Kenner Parker Europe, my first step into Toys and Games.

I’ve spent almost 3 decades in various creative positions in the Industry, including Director of Creative Services for Hasbro Europe, VP of Hasbro Europe’s Design Center and then transferred to the East Coast of the US as the SVP of Product Design for Hasbro’s Global Games Division. For 3 years I held the position of VP of Design and Global Business Leader for Spin Masters games division based in Los Angeles. After leaving California I’ve taken the position as VP Product Development for Basic Fun a fast-growing Toy company based in Boca Raton Florida. I’m known as the ‘Toy Boy’ in the family.

Having had such a long career in toys and games I consider “Play is a Human Need” and that social gaming and play are great ways to bond with family and friends, to create platforms for discussion and of course, to make life time memories! …whether you WIN or LOSE!


BrandiPinsker

INVENTOR RELATIONS

Brandi Pinsker — Founder & CEO, Project Genius

Brandi Pinsker is one of the few toy industry professionals with deep experience in all the three of its primary constituencies: manufacturer, sales rep, and retail buyer. She is the founder and CEO of Project Genius, one of the industry's leading brain teaser manufacturers, where she and her team have invented top-selling products, established a broad base of domestic sales channels, and built a substantial international distribution network. The company has earned numerous awards, and prides itself on creating puzzles and games that marry great gameplay with beautiful design. Prior to Project Genius, Pinsker founded Big Ideas, where she provided rep services to selected game and toy manufacturers. Pinsker worked for Calendar Club, the world's largest operator of pop-up stores, where she was the buyer. Pinsker currently serves as co-chair of the board for Williams Community School, a not-for-profit institution that designs and delivers individualized educational programs for children on the autism spectrum.

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INVENTOR RELATIONS

Chris Lutchen — Design Director, TOMY

Chris Lutchen has been in the world of making toys since the days of his childhood. A tinkerer for as long as he can remember, he started his career as an inventor/designer developing a well-rounded skill set creating and selling ideas to major toy companies. Since then, Chris has spent his career developing licensed products, toys, games, and experiences. Currently, as Design Director at TOMY, Chris manages inventor relations for North America, and directs the creative juices for Lamaze, Club Mocchi Mocchi, John Deere Preschool, vehicles, and is always in the process of building new brands.

David Winter

INVENTOR RELATIONS

David Winter — Sr. Director, BlueJ & Inventor Relations, Jazwares

David Winter has over 13 years of experience in the toy industry, specializing in the discovery and acquisition of toy and game phenomenons. He is now heading up BlueJ, a division of Jazwares that focuses on blue sky concepts that create a pipeline of new business opportunities, intellectual properties and product innovation. In this role, David leads the preliminary creative direction for new brand intellectual property licensed from the inventor community. Through a collaborative team, BlueJ is equipped to discover, design and launch the next toy franchise. 

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INVENTOR RELATIONS

Dianne Lauble — Director of Inventor Relations, PlayMonster

Dianne Lauble is joining PlayMonster Group Inc. as the Director of Inventor Relations. Her multi-dimensional career has ranged from invention, design and styling, to directing global brands. She has brought hundreds of toys to market, working with multiple collaborators, including: Hasbro, Hasbro Games, Mattel, SpinMaster, Tomy, Pressman, Infantino, Ohio Art, Parker Brothers, Fisher-Price, and most recently McDonalds as a Creative Director of Happy Meal Toys. Dianne lives in downtown Chicago with her family.

DominiqueRoy

INVENTOR RELATIONS

Dominique Roy — Vice President Advanced and Industrial Design, Make It Real

Dominique Roy is an industrial designer with over 20 years of experience in the toy industry.  He has occupied roles both in product and brand development in companies such as Mega Bloks, Spin Master and, now, at Make it Real where he is Vice-President Advanced and Industrial Design.  Dominique’s current role includes inventors concept proposals assessment and has been nominated 2 years in row as Inventors Relations Executive of the Year at the Play Creators Awards (2021/2022) by Mojo Nation. Products developed by his team have been successfully sold around the globe and received prestigious awards, such as TOTYs. 


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INVENTOR RELATIONS

Dougal Grimes — Vice President of Innovation and Inventor Relations

Dougal started his Toy Industry career at Hasbro’s European HQ in 2008 after graduating in Product Design Engineering from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. After working in Marketing, Sales and Product Development and focusing on the UK and German markets, he moved into the creative side of the business as Head of Inventor Relations for Hasbro Gaming. In 2019 Dougal joined Spin Master in their newly formed New York City office and now leads Inventor Relations and Innovation for their Games, Plush and Activities businesses.

 

Janene Russell

INVENTOR RELATIONS

Janene Russell — Senior Product Development Manager, Educational Insights

Janene is a Senior Product Development Manager at Educational Insights. She is a former elementary teacher turned toy inventing super-mom dedicated to early childhood development and the positive power of play. She is the key lead preschool brands manager at Educational Insights, bringing over 15 years of experience in early childhood learning and a unique educator’s perspective that melds creativity, laugh-out-loud fun, and hands-on learning through toys and games.

Joe Moll

INVENTOR RELATIONS

Joe Moll — Vice President of Design, Product Development & Inventor Relations, Crayola

Joe Moll, a creative toy expert, has been working in the toy, juvenile products and consumer goods industry for more than 35 years. In addition to his everyday creative responsibilities as Crayola’s Vice President of Design, Product Development & Inventor Relations, Joe works with the Crayola Licensing team to evaluate product concepts and production samples. He also collaborates with Crayola cross-functional teams and external inventors to develop innovative, fun products that align with the Crayola brand and kids’ desires to colorfully express themselves.

JoeSmith_Headshot

INVENTOR RELATIONS

Joe Smith — VP/Chief Development Officer, Basic Fun!

Joseph (Joe) Smith has been involved in the toy industry most of his life, beginning with toy testing for Kenner Toys in Cincinnati, Ohio during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  This led Joe into Industrial Design (BSID ’93) at the University of Cincinnati and eventually a job with the same Kenner Toys where he was a child toy tester so many years earlier.  After spending many years at Kenner, then Hasbro, designing Nerf, Aliens, and Star Wars toys, Joe was being relocated to Hasbro’s headquarters in Rhode Island when he took the opportunity to join a small Construction toy company called K’NEX in 2001.  Joe spent almost 18 years at K’NEX as Design Director, Design VP, and eventually becoming the Chief Development Officer at the company responsible for all the Marketing and Development of the brand.  In 2018, K’NEX was sold to Basic Fun toys and Joe relocated to Boca Raton to run design for the company’s portfolio of construction, activity, role play, and vehicle toys including all things Tonka.  Joe is part of the Inventor Review team at Basic Fun and he and his staff of designers are focused on design and operational efficiencies for their brands being produced both domestically and in the far east.


Kate Soanes

INVENTOR RELATIONS

Kate Soanes — Inventor Relations Manager, TinkerTini

Kate Soanes is an Inventor Relations Manager with TinkerTini, a full-service Inventor Relations agency. With prior experience in marketing research and private business management, along with years spent building and governing a regional women’s non-profit sports organization from the ground up, Kate brings a unique perspective to the toy industry and TinkerTini. Kate joined TinkerTini in 2019 and has been pivotal to the company’s growth, including the creation and deployment of Tinkerly, TinkerTini’s proprietary innovation platform designed to manage global innovation outreaches. Kate continues to discover new methods and means of supporting inventors and clients, with unwavering integrity and some hearty laughs, all with the goal of seeking out the best toy and game innovations to bring to market!

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INVENTOR RELATIONS

Katie Kies — Sales Director, Project Genius

Katie Kies is the Sales Director of Project Genius, a leading brainteaser and puzzle game company. She is head of sales for specialty markets, mass market, and all international sales, while still working closely with the product development side of the business. She has been involved with multiple award-winning games throughout their lifecycle, from their concept creation, all the way to market. She is the eyes and the ears in the field that brings feedback from buyers, sales reps, and end consumers back to the office. Her customer insights direct all aspects of creation, design, gameplay, and packaging. With a background in communications and specializing in customer service and support, she started at Project Genius as a Marketing Specialist, before switching to sales and working her way up to a role as Sales Director.

LaurenMershon

INVENTOR RELATIONS

Lauren Mershon — Manager, BlueJ & Inventor Relations, Jazwares

As Manager of BlueJ and Inventor Relations for Jazwares, Lauren Mershon is on the pulse of trends for both social and retail to best position, strategize and create new intellectual property (IP) development. Lauren joined Jazwares in December 2020, and previously interned at Basic Fun. Since childhood, she has been surrounded by toys and toy design by virtue of the family business, and has hit the ground running creating impact to champion initiatives, inspire product concepts and connecting with the creative community to discover and secure new inventor-based IP for license. A Mojo Nation Top 100 Rising Star, Lauren is excited to partner with Women in Toys and inspire and empower women to be their most creative by sharing her secret sauce of success.

 

LisaWuennemann

INVENTOR RELATIONS

Lisa Wuennemann — Vice President Marketing, PlayMonster

Lisa loves inspiring play which brings smiles to the faces of children and laughter to game nights. She has spent twenty years growing PlayMonster from a family-owned board game manufacturer to a multi-segment toy manufacturer with over 400 SKUs. She specializes in brand development, new product launches and marketing of quality games, building sets, activities, crafts and toys for children, families and adults. She enjoys searching for emerging trends and validating with research. Her teams have developed and launched products for brands such as Koosh, Spirograph, Playskool, Schitt’s Creek, Criminal Minds, Disney, Nickelodeon, My Singing Monsters, NASCAR and Elvis Presley


Naomi Brugnatelli

INVENTOR RELATIONS

Naomi Brugnatelli — Manager of Inventor Relations and Innovation for Games

I began my career in the Toy Industry over 15 year ago at Mattel where I got to work with some of the most talented and influential toy and game designers. I've recently had the extreme privilege to join Team Hasbro as their Manager of Inventor Relations and Innovation for Games. I truly enjoy working with creative thinkers and excel at making connections with new and seasoned inventors. When I'm not busy hunting for new games, you can find me spending time with my twin daughters at the beach or doing jujitsu with my husband.

Sofia Dumery

INVENTOR RELATIONS

Sofia Dumery — Senior Vice President of Design, Melissa & Doug

As Senior Vice President of Design at Melissa & Doug, Sofia Dumery oversees the creation of all toys and ensures those toys deliver on the brand’s mission to ignite imagination and wonder in all children so they discover their passions and their purpose. She leads a team of 18 people across product, packaging, and licensing design, contributing to the company's annual revenue of $600 million.

In addition to setting the product’s vision and strategy, Sofia is responsible for all new toy innovation, working with independent inventors, external partners, and in-house creative team. She holds five patents and is always searching for breakthrough innovations. Sofia works closely to ensure toys not only meet children’s play patterns and market expectations, but also deliver on key sustainability goals.

Prior to joining Melissa & Doug in 2011, Sofia was Design Director at Callaway Arts & Entertainment. There, she built the product strategy and growth of Sunny Patch, at that time an exclusive line for Target. The program generated over $95 million in retail sales with more than 13 million units sold nationwide, across multiple product categories.  

Sofia holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Columbia College, Columbia University and a Masters in Industrial Design from Pratt University. She, her young daughter and their cat Kiwi live in Westport, Connecticut. When it comes to play, Sofia’s passions include biking, camping, and reading with her daughter

MENTORS

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MENTOR — Ecommerce Readiness

Caitlin Rietsma — Sales Manager, Flat River Group

Caitlin Rietsma has been a dedicated member of the Flat River Group sales team for seven years. She has experience managing all of FRG’s major retailer accounts, including Macy’s, Target and most recently, Walmart. As the resident 1P seller Walmart expert, she knows the Walmart systems inside out. Caitlin has a passion for training new hires as the FRG team continues to grow. She is exceptional at optimizing listing content and ecommerce readiness for vendors to set them up for success on our retail channels. She graduated with a BA in Business Administration & Communication from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. Her hobbies include running marathons, mountain biking and exploring Michigan wineries.

BAM_0697

MENTOR — Intellectual Property

Charlotte Towne — aka The Mermaid Lawyer®️

Attorney Charlotte Towne aka The Mermaid Lawyer®️  has been practicing trademark, copyright, and entertainment law since 2009.  She has filed and secured hundreds of federal trademark and copyright registrations on behalf of her clients.  Additionally, she has represented clients in federal copyright infringement and trademark infringement cases, as well as opposition proceedings in the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.  She represents a broad range of creators, innovators, and businesses with their trademark, copyright, and contract needs.  She is also a patented inventor, special needs mom, and literally a mermaid!  Charlotte protects her clients' valuable treasure through trademark searches, trademark filings, copyright filings and contracts.  This is a "fintastic" opportunity for you to discover the necessary steps for protection of your brand..... and what could happen if you don't!  When starting a business or brand, securing your intellectual property should be a top priority.  Failure to do so could result in lawsuits and lost treasure.
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MENTOR — PR & Partnerships

Donna MacNeil — President, Beacon Media

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MENTOR — DEI

Ehi Oviasu-Kahn — Attorney, Artist and Inventor

A life-long explorer, Ehi practiced human rights and intellectual property law. She balanced her legal practice with an artistic career, working mostly in sculpture. She chanced upon her first invention while making a toy for her daughter. Before long, her basement studio was filled with projects! Today, Ehi makes engaging toys with eye-catching designs, engineered for hours of constructive and enriching play. Her design philosophy centers on making visually stimulating toys that encourage cognitive development and grow with the child.

Genna Headshot cropped II

MENTOR — DEI & Business Development

Genna Rosenberg — CEO, GennComm

Genna Rosenberg is a 25-year toy and licensing industry executive focused on the intersection of Social Impact and Consumer Products.  She is the CEO of a global PR and marketing agency GennComm, and Chief Ideator at the Company’s licensing and product development think tank, GennComm ImaGENNation. With an intentional lens toward empowerment, diversity, inclusion and social responsibility, she has been a trusted thought leader and industry innovator, having served both public and private toycos and agencies. Rosenberg has been an active leader in the WiT Community, including current roles as a Mentor, Advisory Board Member and WiT D&I Committee member. She and GennComm have been advisors and storytellers for many of the top entertainment and gaming studios in the world, including Paramount, SONY, NBCUniversal and The Jim Henson Company, SYBO Games, American Greetings Entertainment, and hundreds of top beloved brands including Subway Surfers, 5 Surprise Mini Brands, Care Bears, Cabbage Patch Kids, Pokémon, Disney and Marvel brands, Tamagotchi, SpongeBob SquarePants, JoJo Siwa, Pound Puppies, Ghostbusters, The Fresh Dolls and countless more. In 2021 she was named by The Toy Association as an Official Genius of Play Ambassador, charged with sharing-out to the world the incredible benefits of play on society.

JSP Headshot Lo-res

MENTOR — Sales and Distribution

Jeff Pinsker — Senior Leadership Team, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Jeff Pinsker has founded three companies and sold four in businesses ranging
from practical jokes to children’s TV and publishing to toys and games.
Accomplishments include:

  • inventing products that have sold 41+ million units at retail
  • establishing an international distribution network spanning 104 countries
  • starting a division that converted legacy game IP into mobile apps
  • running a company with the #1 rated show on The Disney Channel

Most recently, Pinsker was President of Mondo, a D2C collectibles business that
was a subsidiary of Alamo Drafthouse (the nation’s largest privately-held cinema
chain), where he serves on the senior management team. Previously, he was the
CEO of Amigo Games, the US subsidiary of one of Germany’s top game
companies. Prior positions include top management roles at: Cardinal/Spin
Master, Pressman Toy, Scholastic’s Klutz division, and University Games.

Board service includes: Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, HealthStart
Foundation, Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA), American Specialty Toy
Retailing Association (ASTRA), Project Genius, Mashup Foods, DASH Robotics,
National Education Week, Stanford’s Entrepreneurs Group, Stanford Health
Library, and the Tech Museum’s Tech Challenge. Pinsker has written 13
children’s books, holds a master’s and two bachelor’s degrees from Stanford
University, and is the proud father of two grown children and an 18-year-old
stepson.

JRichardson_headshot

MENTOR — Intellectual Property

Jeremy Richardson — Partner, Freeborn & Peters LLP

Jeremy Richardson leads the firm’s Consumer Products Industry Team, is a Partner in the Litigation Practice Group, and a member of the Intellectual Property Practice Group.  Jeremy works primarily with consumer product manufacturers and, in particular, the juvenile products industry.

Clients leverage Jeremy’s expertise – including his fashion law background – in times of opportunity and need.  Jeremy partners with clients to provide practical solutions on an array of matters including trademark and copyright protection; intellectual property licenses; minimum advertised price policies; terms and conditions of sale; third party logistics and warehouse agreements; and contract disputes.  He is also sought after to advise on regulatory compliance matters.  When litigation becomes necessary, Jeremy practices in New York State and Federal courts, in arbitration, has argued before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and has been admitted pro hac vice to practice before a number of courts.

Jeremy’s impact on the juvenile products industry is felt beyond the boardroom and courthouse.  His professional affiliations include the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association; the International Consumer Products Health and Safety Organization; Toy Association; and ASTM International.

Jeremy has been a guest lecturer at Parsons School of Design and Fordham Law School on legal and regulatory issues in the fashion industry.


Julie-Gwaltney-Headshot-200X200

MENTOR — Licensing, Deals & Negotiations

Julie Gwaltney — Senior Director, Boys & Girls, TOMY

With over 20 years of consumer products experience, Julie Gwaltney has spent a majority of her career in the juvenile products industry working primarily in the infant, toddler and preschool toy sector. With experience on brands both big and small, she has grown brands & IP's globally from the ground-up, as well as launched and maintained evergreen licensed properties. She has also worked with major retailers on both branded and private label programs.

A mom herself, Julie has a passion for innovation, storytelling, and hands-on play/learning. She is particularly passionate about developing products and content that will help educate and build self-confidence in children, and in particular, encourage empowerment in young girls

 

KarenKilpatrick

MENTOR - Children's Publishing & Related Products

Karen Kilpatrick — President, Kayppin Media

Karen Kilpatrick is a former finance attorney turned marketing executive and creative entrepreneur. She has extensive experience building brands and partnerships through her tenure with Jazwares, where she led its emerging IP division and launched a plush line created with her daughters. Later, in her role as Vice President of Marketing, she developed corporate and philanthropic initiatives, along with the marketing strategy for marquee brands such as Fortnite and Peppa Pig. Karen is the author of several bestselling and upcoming children’s book series (including the When Pencil Met series published by Macmillan and Yo’s Magical Kitchen with celebrity bake artist and TV personality, Yolanda Gampp) and acts as publishing agent for select brands and celebrities at East West Literary Agency. Karen is also the founder and president of Kayppin Media, a company that combines the best of the traditional and self-publishing models to help authors, companies, and brands establish successful publishing programs on their own terms, and Authors4Education, a 401(c)(3) nonprofit that has donated tens of thousands of books to underserved elementary school students. 


Kristi Bluhm

MENTOR — Pitch Perfect Product Design

Kristi Bluhm — BlueJ Design Manager, Jazwares

Kristi Bluhm is a Design Manager for BlueJ, a division of Jazwares that focuses on blue sky concepts that create a pipeline of new business opportunities, intellectual properties and product innovation. She is an award-winning creative manager and former consultant, with over 15 years of experience in the toy industry, previously working with JAKKS Pacific, MGA Entertainment and Hasbro. Kristi currently focuses on new intellectual property and is responsible for the refinement of inventor concepts and championing each idea from concept to shelf.



 

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MENTOR — Ecommerce Readiness

Lauren Ricci — Director of Business Development, Flat River Group

Lauren Ricci leads the Business Development initiative at Flat River Group. Her goal is to provide best-in-class service to manufacturers in need of ecommerce expertise to grow their brand recognition and market penetration. Prior to Flat River Group, Lauren’s career in CPG started in 2011 when she joined CSS Industries (now part of IG Design Group Americas, Inc.) leading their inventory liquidation division. She held sales leadership roles at both Creative Co-Op, where she managed the Off-Price channel and Asmodee North America, where she led the international sales team. She lives in Pennsylvania and is an avid dog lover. Lauren has a degree in Business Administration from Wilkes University.

 

Lindsey Berger_MelissaDoug

MENTOR — Sales & Distribution

Lindsey Berger — National Account Manager, Melissa & Doug

WiT Member Lindsey Berger is a third-generation toy salesperson and a 13-year toy industry veteran. She has extensive sales and distribution knowledge and has worked with companies such as The Bridge Direct, TY, License 2 Play Toys, and currently, Melissa & Doug LLC. 



 

Lisa Whitaker

MENTOR — Market Research

Lisa Whitaker — Founder and Co-President, Head of Marketing, Kidfnity

Lisa Whitaker is a Global Brand Strategist with over 30 years in the toy industry. With extensive brand building experience, Lisa has a proven track record in Integrated Marketing, Brand and Account Management, and New Business Development. 

Lisa started her career in Market Research at Kenner Products, prior to Hasbro’s acquisition of Kenner. In her time at Hasbro, Lisa managed many well-known brands such as Play-Doh, Littlest Pet Shop, Baby Alive, Batman, and Transformers, and was the VP Marketing and Global Brand Captain for Star Wars at the Episode 1 release.

Prior to co-founding Kidfinity, Lisa worked alongside co-founders Darryl Wizenberg and Tolly Wizenberg at both TOLLYTOTS and JAKKS Pacific. At JAKKS, she drove strategy, ideation and the successful launch of new Disney Princess product segments as well as devising creative strategies for the financials, product, distribution, and branding of various other Disney licenses. Her experience and unparalleled integrity continue to inspire peers and put her at the forefront of every business in which she is involved. 

Apart from her accomplishments in the industry, Lisa is a proud mother of four children. She strives to be a role model for them as well as for other women in business, always putting forth 100% effort in all her endeavors and demonstrating the importance of building strong relationships and both working and playing hard.

Matt Nuccio

MENTOR — Starting a Toy Company

Matt Nuccio — President, Design Edge

Matt Nuccio is the president of Design Edge inc, a toy and game development, marketing, manufacturing, inventing and consulting agency. They are headquartered in New York with two satellite offices in China. For over 30 years, Design Edge has been a leading development agency in the toys and games industry. For 4 years Matt co-chaired the Toy Association (TA) associate panel, representing all designers and inventors in the toy industry. Currently, Matt sits on the board of directors of the United Inventors Association of America (UIA), the Toy Association education advisory board and on the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTAG) advisory board. Matt also writes a column in Toy Family Entertainment magazine focusing on the toy industry and often lectures at New York Toy Fair, ASTRA, Chicago Toy & Game Fair, and Hong Kong Toy Fair and various inventor clubs around the world including the 2019 Emerging Innovation Summit in Melbourne Australia. Design Edge's products have been nominated for, and have also won, many industry awards such as TOTY (Toy Of The Year), TAGIE (Toy and Games Innovators), Games 100, Origin, and Family Fun among others. In 2019, Matt was honored by the National Security Agency (NSA) as an American Innovator and was recently listed for the second year in a row, by Mojo Nation, as one of the top 100 most influential people in the toy industry today.

Michele Litzky

MENTOR — PR & Partnerships

Michele C Litzky — CEO and Founder, Litzky Public Relations, Inc.

After a diverse early career that took her from the Bantam Books publicity department to The Softness Group, a public relations agency where she got her first taste of sports marketing, she became the first PR manager at L’eggs Hosiery. The position gave her the opportunity to be a part of the team that launched a revolutionary product, stockings sold in grocery stores. Her next stop was Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance where she ran UConn’s Connecticut Mutual Classic holiday basketball tournament. When she had the opportunity to return to a New York agency to handle the Hasbro business, she jumped at the chance. She joined Griffin Bacal Inc., started its first in-house public relations and special events department. She left the agency in 1986, was Media Director for the Ralston Purina Meow-Off and then joined a small agency to build its consumer package goods business. She founded Litzky Public Relations in 1988 with one client, Matchbox Toys. She’s never looked back. Her client roster grew. So did her team. And its reputation within the toy industry. Best known for her 3+ decades work on Hasbro and its global brands, the agency now represents iconic brands like National Geographic, Disney Publishing, Pokemon, MENSA and Schwinn, to name a few. All dedicated to kids and family entertainment. Looking back, Litzky never imagined she’d be at the helm of a 30+ year old agency with an amazing view of the New York skyline from her conference room and a team of rock stars who honor her by calling themselves Litzky Ladies.

PattiBecker

MENTOR — Inventor Relations

Patti Becker — CEO & Founder of Becker Associates, LLC

Patti Becker, CEO & Founder of Becker Associates LLC, prides herself on helping companies, entrepreneurs, and inventors develop their IP, and market their brands and products. She has over 40 years of experience in the Toy Industry. Her background combines art, developmental child psychology, education (BA), and marketing (MBA). Before joining Anjar and founding Becker Associates, Patti held positions at three different US consumer products manufacturers. Patti is also a past President of Women in Toys, Licensing and Entertainment (WiT). Under her leadership, the organization experienced exponential growth, including global expansion and the establishment of international chapters in Hong Kong, the UK and Australia. She also established the Women’s Empowerment Program with Walmart in 2012, encouraging 500+ women-owned businesses to pitch their ideas directly to Walmart buyers, discuss their experiences and share best practices.

Rachel 21 for WIT IMG_4068

MENTOR — Product Testing & Safety

Rachel M. Meyer — Principal, Toy Safety & Quality, Inc.

For over 25 years, Rachel Murray Meyer has been a corporate leader in the fields of toys, children’s  and licensed product safety, quality assurance, social responsibility, and manufacturing.

As Principal of Toy Safety and Quality, Inc., her clients include name-brand licensors, toy manufacturers, and testing laboratories.  Her extensive experience includes enhancing the safety, value and profitability of companies: assisting with big picture policies while also being hands on, with years of factory experience in the US, Mexico and China.

 From successful family-owned companies like Melissa and Doug, to publicly traded giants such as Disney, Mattel, Hasbro, and Google, Rachel’s efforts have led to significant and consistent improvements in process and product quality and safety.

 Rachel earned her Master’s Degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, with an emphasis on production planning and control, from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her Bachelor’s Degree is in Mathematics from Smith College. 

She is a voting member of ASTM on committee F15 for Consumer Products, including ASTM F963 the Toy Safety Standard.  She is based in San Francisco where she resides with her husband and sometimes-visiting college children


Shannon Ostrander

MENTOR — Ecommerce Readiness

Shannon Ostrander — Sales Manager, Flat River Group

Shannon Ostrander has seven years of experience as a key member on the Flat River Group sales team. She specializes in onboarding new vendor brands and positioning them for optimal sales performance. Additionally, she is instrumental in new product development and brand preparation for ecommerce and retail distribution. Shannon serves as a board member on the Marketing Advisory Committee for her local school district as well as board member of a local non-profit community cancer organization in Belding, Michigan. She enjoys spending time with family, traveling, and playing sports. She has a Merchandising Management degree from Michigan State University.

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MENTOR — Licensing, Deals & Negotiations

Steven W. Heller — Founder, The Brand Liaison

Steven W. Heller is a trademark and patent licensing attorney and founder of The Brand
Liaison, a top-15 worldwide leading licensing and brand management agencies. Throughout his 30+ year career in licensing, Steven has been active in all aspects of intellectual property including licensing of fashion brands, celebrities, characters and inventions, working with start-ups to some of the world’s largest brands. Also known as “The Professor,” Mr. Heller is a renowned public speaker and a professor of business and law at both the graduate and undergraduate level and is a member of the Licensing International Board of Directors. He is also a guest speaker at the US Patent and Trademark Office’s InventorCon where he has lectured on launching new products, building a brand and licensing of inventions.

TammySmitham

MENTOR — PR & Partnerships

Tammy Smitham — Vice President, Communications & Corporate Citizenship, Spin Master

Tammy Smitham is the Vice President, Communications & Corporate Citizenship for Spin Master, a leading global children’s entertainment company. She oversees all global external and internal communications, public relations, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and philanthropy programming. She is committed to advancing Spin Master’s purpose of creating magical experiences for families and kids and to giving children in communities around the world the opportunity to grow, explore and learn through the power of play.  

Prior to joining Spin Master, Tammy managed communications and corporate affairs functions for a number of publicly-traded Canadian companies including Aimia (Aeroplan), Loblaw Companies Limited and Shoppers Drug Mart. During her career, she has developed and executed strategic communication plans and CSR initiatives across a variety of business categories including pharmacy, healthcare, food retailing and beauty, with the goal of enhancing, promoting and protecting brand purpose and reputation. 

 

Tiffany Tasker Headshot

MENTOR — Digital Content & Ads

Tiffany Tasker — Head of Industry: Toys, SuperAwesome

Tiffany Tasker is a digital media and marketing specialist within the kids and youth space. With over 10 years experience creating digital strategies for toy companies in the USA and UK, Tiffany is now the Head of Industry: Toys at SuperAwesome, where she is responsible for developing best-in-class solutions specific to the toy space. SuperAwesome pioneered KidTech; its solutions are used by hundreds of companies to ensure that their digital engagement with kids is safe, private, and compliant with laws such as COPPA, GDPR-K, CCPA, and more. 


Trina McFarland

MENTOR — Inventor Relations

Trina McFarland — Owner and General Manager, TinkerTini, LLC

Trina McFarland is the Owner and General Manager of TinkerTini, a full-service Inventor Relations agency founded in 2018. In 2020, TinkerTini launched Tinkerly, a first-of-its kind innovation platform for managing external innovation outreaches, connecting 700+ global inventors and students with toy and game manufacturers and licensors. Trina’s Inventor Relations career began at Disney in 2004 where she created and launched the first licensor driven Inventor Outreach, she then went on to manage Inventor Relations for Jakks Pacific, Fisher-Price, and Mattel. Trina is a well-known supporter of the inventing community and passionate about teaching companies how to engage inventors on their business with ethics and results. Trina is personally passionate about equal access, “concept inclusivity” and providing free resources, guidance, and practical support to nurture the next generation of Toy Industry inventors.