2018 WIT EMPOWERMENT DAY SPEAKERS & INDUSTRY EXPERT MENTORS

Empowerment Day Co-Chairs

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Deb de Sherbinin – Principal, Perk Consulting

Deb de Sherbinin is principal of Perk Consulting, a product and marketing agency specializing in helping companies develop, brand, and launch products and apps. With over 25 years’ experience building world-class brands and growing startups, she has developed and launched hundreds of products in the toy and game world. Her expertise includes strategic planning, brand management, product innovation, public relations, promotion and product licensing. Deb serves on WIT’s Executive Board, and also co-chairs the Empowerment Committee and Communications Committee. She received her BA from Boston University and MBA from Boston College’s Carroll Graduate School of Management.

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Nancy Zwiers – EVP & Global CMO, Spin Master

A classically trained brand-builder at Procter & Gamble, Zwiers joined the toy industry in 1990 with Mattel, where she held a number of progressively senior positions. Nancy takes child’s play seriously. As founder and CEO of the consulting firm Funosophy Inc., Zwiers spent the past 16 years helping over 200 clients—from industry leaders to start-ups in toys, youth entertainment and interactive games—build and expand their brands. Zwiers has been a strategic thought-partner and facilitator for many industry executives and has helped in strategy development for many successful franchises. She has conducted extensive research on kids and play and has led multiple invention teams to licensing success.

Educational Sessions

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WALMART BUYER PANEL

Anne Marie Kehoe – VP Toys, Walmart

With 35 years of General Merchandise experience in retail, Anne Marie has led Walmart’s Toy Team since 2010 as VP of Toys. Her career there began in 2003 as a Merchandise Manager for Paper Goods, and in 2004 she was appointed VP and Divisional Merchandise Manager Intimate Apparel. In 2007, Anne Marie was promoted to General Merchandise Manager for Shoes/Jewelry and Accessories. She has also served as VP, Category Planning, Apparel. Ann Marie is very active inside Walmart in the Global Women’s Initiative and Made in the USA. She is a member of the United States Naval Reserves, having served two years active duty and seven years active reserves. Anne Marie has a BA in finance from the University of Wisconsin.

Natalie
KEYNOTE SPEAKER

Natalie Rebot – Inventor/Founder, Moonlite World, Inc.

Natalie is the inventor of the Moonlite Storybook Projector, a product that turns any mobile device into a magical storytime experience. Moonlite is an award-winning product that went viral with over 50M organic video views to date. The product that came to life via Kickstarter in 2017 and is now sold in retail stores worldwide. Natalie is a mom to a 5-year-old girl, named Chloe. Chloe was the inspiration behind Moonlite as she loved to do shadow play based-stores before bed. Natalie loved how Chloe’s whole room became part of the storytelling experience and thought she could enhance the shadow play experience, and that’s how Moonlite was born.

 

Natalie has a vast range of work experience. She is an ex-Googler who worked in a variety of different roles during her 7-year tenure at Google. Some of the products she developed have been integrated into Google Adwords. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering in 2005 and then went on to get her MBA and graduated in 2009. Natalie is currently heading up all Moonlite product development and marketing at Spin Master, her licensing partner.

Pam Anderson
GOOGLE/FACEBOOK ADS

Pamela Anderson – Vice President eCommerce & Sales, Alex Brands

Pamela Anderson is the Vice President of eCommerce & Sales at Alex Brands, she’s been at Alex since 2015. Alex Brands is a New Jersey-based toy company that specializes in novelty products for infants, toddlers, and tweens in the US and internationally. She is responsible for eCommerce, digital marketing, business development and technical execution of all online channels, including sales through retail partners and distributors. Prior to Alex Brands, Pamela was at Amazon from 2012-14 as Merchandising Manager where she led merchandising, marketing, vendor relationships, and user experience for the Toys & Games Category. She has also held various digital marketing positions in Hot Topic Inc., Toshiba and Chivas USA. She is very strongly positioned to discuss digital strategy, market dynamics, product differentiation, and the competitive landscape of the digital world.

Keri Wilmot
SOCIAL MEDIA

Keri Wilmot – Content Development Manager, ToyQueen.com

Keri Wilmot is a toy expert, parent and pediatric occupational therapist, with more than 18 years of experience working with children with special needs. Since 2009, Keri has been creating toy reviews and sharing playful content on ToyQueen.com, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Keri also serves as an expert contributor to the Toy Industry Association’s Genius of Play initiative.

Anita Castellar
LICENSING

Anita Castellar – CEO, FanGirl Consulting & Brand Management, LLC

Anita Castellar is a licensing and toy industry veteran and Chair of the WIT Central Florida Chapter. For over 20 years, she has created leading retail programs and product development strategies for some of the world’s most popular franchises such as the Disney characters as well as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. Anita holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Management with a concentration in International Business.

Industry Expert Mentors

Bernadette Boyle

Bernadette Boyle – Senior Membership Manager, The Toy Association

As The Toy Association’s Senior Membership Manager, Bernadette Boyle develops and implements member strategies for the association to raise visibility for the Association’s departments, initiatives, products, and services. She is responsible for reinforcing the value of membership to help in recruitment efforts and ensure that the overall membership experience is of the highest quality. In addition, she develops and maintains relationships with contacts at the Association’s 950+ member companies and communicates member benefits which help them advance their own businesses. Prior to joining The Toy Association, Bernadette directed marketing and PR efforts for The American Craft Council, a non-profit member-based contemporary craft organization.  She has over 20 years of marketing and communications experience, with earlier positions at Newsweek, Inc. and at several direct marketing/list brokerage agencies. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, sports and spending time with family and friends.  

Bridget Moon

Bridget Moon – Economic Development Specialist and Veterans Business Development Officer, SBA Dallas/Fort Worth District Office

Bridget Moon joined the U.S. Small Business Administration in 1996, currently holding a position of Economic Development Specialist and Veterans Business Development Officer in the SBA Dallas/Fort Worth District Office. Her responsibilities include building and maintaining collaborative partnerships with small business stakeholders such as economic development practitioners, civic and community organizations, chambers of commerce, business associations, and educational institutions.  Prior to working for the District Office, she has held several positions under the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Disaster Assistance – Processing & Disbursement Center. Bridget has a passion for small business owners and demonstrates this through her presentations at various venues.  Currently, Bridget is a small business owner and has been since the age of 18. Her businesses have ranged from real estate investments to fabrication.  As she says, “She gets it, being a small business owner, all that it entails.” As a result, Bridget has counseled and prepared business plans, ranging from start-ups to existing businesses needing anything from market analysis to expansion. Bridget holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management from Ball State University. An Entrepreneurship Program that has consistently ranked among the nation’s elite including top 4 in U.S. News & World Report, #1 Public University for Entrepreneurship, #1 Regional Entrepreneurship Program in Entrepreneur magazine.

David Becker

David Becker – President, Blue Plate Media Services

An industry veteran, David Becker has worked closely with many leading toy companies, helping to grow their respective brands in North America and across the globe. David has over 30 years of experience in advertising and branding across a range of industries from toys, entertainment, education and apparel to publishing, licensing and consumer packaged goods. Recipient of the New York Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, David has dedicated his career to helping emerging, mid-range to mature companies impact the market through smart thinking and a “collaborative” approach to brand building. A founding partner of Blue Plate Media Services and 13-year affinity partner with Toy Association, David works closely with toy companies to help drive retailer sell in and consumer sell through. Prior to joining Blue Plate Media, David’s entrepreneurial career includes senior marketing and product development agency positions at BBDO, American Marketing, DBECK Industries, and Thorn EMI’s Musicom.

Gina Waldhorn

Gina Waldhorn – President, Quirky

Gina Waldhorn was named by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of 2017’s Most Daring Entrepreneurs and is President of Quirky, the community led invention platform that brings real people’s ideas to life. Gina joined Quirky in 2017 where she was tapped to revitalize the company following its change of ownership in 2016, and in twelve months she has stewarded the development of more than 50 new electronic and home products. Prior to joining Quirky, Gina co-founded the innovation boutique Evol8tion in 2012 where she executed over 75 in-market startup and brand pilot programs with leading brands including Nestle, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Steelcase, and Mondelez International, and pioneered innovation practices within IoT, AI, AR/VR, and Natural User Interfaces. Before founding Evol8tion Gina spent 7 years practicing communications planning and digital strategy for global clients including Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and UPS at agencies Carat and Maxus. An obsessive problem solver and serial ideator, Gina has taken home a Young Cannes Lion Award, IAB MIXX Award, AdClub of NY Presidents Award, and was recognized by AWNY as a 2016 Game Changer. Gina has achieved a Master of Arts in Global Marketing from Emerson College in Boston and built a vast collection of Philip K Dick novels. She is also the proud mom to baby Eddie and dog Rowlf, and lives in Brooklyn New York.

Jerry Welch

Jerry R. Welch – Co-Founder/General Partner, Bambini Partners LLC

Jerry is Co-Founder and General Partner of Bambini Partners, LLC, a strategic advisory firm focused on companies in the toy, infant/ juvenile, family and pet consumer products industries. Before founding Bambini Partners, he was the CEO of nFinanSe Inc. From 1996 to 2005, Jerry was the CEO of FAO Schwarz and its predecessor companies, during which time he combined The Right Start, Zany Brainy, and FAO to form a retail holding company with over 300 stores and $700 million in sales. From 1993 until 2001, he was also a Managing Director and Partner in Kayne Anderson Investment Management, a large Los Angeles-based private equity firm. Jerry is very experienced in the public capital markets, having been CEO of five public companies and taken two companies public over his 40-year career. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a B.S. in Business Administration and a Major in Finance.

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Jill Sasso – Senior Director, Human Resources & Governance, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council

Jill Sasso, Senior Director, Human Resources & Governance, joined WBENC in January 2015. She serves on the leadership team of WBENC and oversees human resources strategy and organizational development. In this role, Jill is responsible for the overall talent management of the organization as well as program, policy and culture development. She also oversees WBENC board governance and leads various programs within WBENC including NextGen and the Legacy of Leaders EnCORE Advisory group. Prior to joining WBENC, Jill served on the leadership team of WBE firm, Point 2 Point Global Security, Inc. In her role as SVP of Human Resources, Jill strategically partnered with the President & CEO and leadership team to translate corporate vision and objectives into executable business plans, growing the team by over 40% and developing a people-focused culture. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of North Texas, as well as a Senior Certified Human Resources Professional Certification (SHRM-SCP) from the Society for Human Resources Management and a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) from the Human Resources Certification Institute.

John Lee

John W. Lee II – Co-Founder/General Partner, Bambini Partners LLC

John is Co-Founder and General Partner of Bambini Partners, LLC, a strategic advisory firm focused on companies in the toy, infant/ juvenile, family and pet consumer products industries. Prior to forming Bambini Partners, he was CEO of Callaway Arts & Entertainment, a publishing and IP development enterprise. John is the former President of Learning Curve International, which he founded in 1993. Regarded as a leader in the educational and developmental toy industry, he has authored numerous trade articles on brand management, product innovation and merchandising. John is the recipient of the 2004 Playthings Industry Achievement Award for Brand Builder for the Thomas the Tank Engine train brand, and the 2005 ASTRA Lifetime Achievement Award. He has served on numerous industry association boards including the TA, ASTRA and NRF. John received his B.A. degree in Industrial / Consumer Psychology.

Kimberly Mosley

Kimberly Mosley – President, ASTRA

Kimberly Mosley, CAE is the President of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), the world’s largest specialty toy association. Founded in 1992, ASTRA is an international trade organization that develops and supports a membership of independent retailers, manufacturers and sales representatives in the toy industry. Inspired to change the world through the power of play, ASTRA is a community of dedicated professionals committed to providing children with healthy, quality play materials that have a high play value and are designed with a focus on what the child can do, rather than what the toy can do. Through certification programs, educational resources and networking opportunities, ASTRA equips and empowers members to make a positive impact on the economy and culture of the communities they serve. Kim has been a leader in the association industry for more than 20 years. She has earned distinction as a Certified Association Executive. She is also a Certified Play Expert – a certification that recognizes the important role of play in healthy brain development. She serves as adjunct faculty and on the advisory board for several colleges and training centers. She also lectures, blogs and writes articles on specialty toy retailing, association management, and technology. Ms. Mosley holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Governors State University and an MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management in Chicago, IL.

Lane Florquis

Lane Florquist – VP of Business Development, New Creature

Lane is VP of Business Development at New Creature, a retail-focused marketing agency in Bentonville, AR. In his role, he helps solve problems at multiple retailers for companies from startups to Fortune 100 members. Lane is looking forward to helping answer retail marketing/merchandising questions at WIT Empowerment Day!

Ruth Synowic

Ruth Synowic – Owner, Ruth Green Concepts, Inc.

For over 25 years, Ruth Green Synowic has applied her passion for creativity, product design and innovation to the toy and consumer products industry. Ruth has worked with dozens of licensors, consulted for numerous toy companies and clients, and was VP of a Creative group that designed the McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. As an award-winning independent toy inventor and President of Ruth Green Concepts, Inc., a creative product design consultancy, Ruth has helped her clients bring a variety of concepts to life, – ranging from plush and electronics to health aids, to educational products, and more!

Shelby Mathis

Shelby Mathis – Small Business Ombudsman, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Shelby serves as the Small Business Ombudsman at the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Through her office, she aims to provide information to businesses in a fashion that is clear, easy to understand, and consistent with agency policy. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, a Juris Doctorate, and is a licensed Patent Attorney. Shelby sincerely enjoys assisting businesses, so if you have questions on the requirements associated with a consumer product, please reach out to her directly.

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Stacy Lellos – SVP, General Manager, KLUTZ

SVP and General Manager of Klutz, Stacy Lellos is an award-winning marketer and trailblazer in the publishing and toy worlds, having held a variety of executive-level positions at Scholastic and Toys“R”Us. Stacy held several roles at Scholastic, culminating in VP, Marketing and Multiplatform Publishing, where she helped drive the marketing campaigns for Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and many others. She also led the digital development team, increasing brand engagement through social media, apps, and mobile gaming. As VP, Brand Marketing for Toys”R”Us, Stacy led brand strategy for the global retail chain. Stacy took over the helm of Klutz four years ago, steering the company’s award-winning book and activity kits for kids. She has successfully leveraged Klutz’s 40-year history while innovating with dynamic, diversified products that spark creativity in every child. As a mom of three, Stacy understands each child is unique, and she leads a talented team to develop premium, trend-right, kid-tested products.

Stephanie Pottick

Stephanie Pottick, Esq. – President, Pottick Law PC

Stephanie Pottick is a legal and business consultant who is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and companies take their brands and businesses to the next level. She is a licensed attorney who worked in the toy industry for over 14 years and has extensive experience with branding, licensing, merchandising, sales, marketing, safety and manufacturing. Because of her unique background, Stephanie has the ability to understand business from a legal perspective and the law from a business perspective. Stephanie provides practical solutions and creative strategies for everyday business matters and routinely works on business and licensing contracts, brand and intellectual property protection and general business consultation.

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Sue Murphy – Vice President, Coyne Public Relations

Susan is Vice President at Coyne Public Relations and is an accomplished PR practitioner who has created and executed award-winning campaigns on behalf of her clients for more than 20 years. Throughout her career, she has worked with well-known brands such as Alex Brands, Crayola, Fisher-Price, Mattel and Playmobil. Currently, she leverages her industry expertise to lead Coyne’s dedicated toy practice, which supports several high-profile clients, including Playmates Toys, LeapFrog and VTech to name a few. In addition to a thriving career, Susan is also a wife and mother of two amazing girls and two fur babies.

Sue Warfield

Sue Warfield – Director of Member Relations, ASTRA

Sue Warfield has been in the both the Retail and Toy Business for over 30 years. What began as a part-time retail job turned into a passion for retail. While attending college at the University of Minnesota, she worked part-time for the then Dayton’s Department Store Chain. Though her career path had been International Trade, when she got her first great job in her field of study, she realized that as each day was coming to a close, she was looking forward to going to her part-time sales job at Dayton’s – which for some reason, she had never given up. Answering an ad to become an assistant manager at a hobby and craft store, she got the job…and that was it. Retail and sales were where she wanted to be. Over the years, Sue worked for 2 major, independently owned, retail chains based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and worked through the ranks to include store management, training, buying, and ultimately, director of retail operations. In 1990 she started her own retail consulting firm, Retail Specialties, and worked with clients around the US, developing training programs and working to improve their day to day operations. She entered the world of toy representation in 1995 and retail store ownership in 1999 when she and her husband opened a Northwoods furnishings and décor store. She joined ASTRA in 2000 and has been an active member ever since, serving on the Board for 7 years, including chair. Her most recent work contributions have been with Hotaling Imports, a long-term ASTRA Member, and serving as chair of the ASTRA Membership Committee.

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Wendy Smolen – Founder, WendySmolen.com

Wendy is an author, editor and idea generator with a long history in the toy and media industries. Throughout her career, she has helped numerous brands create and launch innovative and impactful experiences in play and learning. In 2008, she co-founded Sandbox Summit, an annual idea forum at MIT, to explore the intersection of play, learning and technology. She has held senior positions at Parents and Nick Jr. Family Magazine, has written and edited several books, judged TOTY and iKids Awards, and mentors entrepreneurs. She has three grown children who text more often than call, thus, keeping her up to speed on the benefits of social media.

Toy Company / Inventor Relations

Adam Hocherman

Adam Hocherman – Monsterpreneur, PlayMonster (VP, New Business Development)

Adam brings a diverse mix of product development expertise, manufacturing experience and business acumen to PlayMonster. He has a degree in mechanical engineering as well as an MBA, both from Cornell University. In his career, Adam has personally designed, developed and brought to market dozens of consumer products ranging from electronics to educational S.T.E.M. toys. Prior to joining PlayMonster Adam bootstrapped, grew, and sold two prior toy companies. In his current role as VP, New Business, Adam plays a critical role identifying new product licensing and/or acquisition opportunities which fulfill the required combination of identified need, market opportunity, economic feasibility and creative quality. These opportunities form the present and future product lines that drive growth at the company while maintaining PlayMonster’s mission to provide the highest-quality play experience for its customers.

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Alan Gong – VP of Product Development, Basic Fun!

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Ashley Mady – Head of Brand Development, Basic Fun!

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David Winter – Senior Manager, Inventor Relations, Spin Master

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Karen Kilpatrick – Vice President of Marketing, Jazwares

Karen Kilpatrick is Vice President of Marketing for Jazwares in addition to heading Jazwares’ innovative online platform, Jazwings, which provides creators and innovators an unparalleled opportunity to launch new brands. She is the creator, along with her two daughters, of one of the Jazwings brands – MeBears. Karen is also the author of Pumpkinheads, an award-winning children’s book series, and has authored several short stories for adults. Previously, Karen founded, built and sold several online businesses in the legal services industry. In 2017, Karen was awarded the Rising Star by Women In Toys, Licensing & Entertainment. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and the NYU School of Law. Karen currently resides in Florida with her three children.

Laura Zebresky

Laura Zebersky – Chief Commercial Officer, Jazwares

Laura oversees Jazwares’ global licensing, marketing, and sales efforts. Under her leadership, Jazwares has successfully launched wildly popular brands such as Peppa Pig, Roblox, and Fiesty Pets. She has been instrumental in developing Jazwares’ European presence and works closely with retailers and licensors around the globe to build Jazwares’ North American and international business. Laura plays a key role in identifying trends and developing global product, marketing, and launch strategy. After obtaining her undergraduate degree from the American University, Laura went on to pursue her Juris Doctor at the University of Miami where she met her future husband and founder of Jazwares, Judd Zebersky. Following a successful run as a trial attorney, she joined Judd at Jazwares in 2006. Laura is the proud mom to three beautiful children, and is an active part of her community as co-founder of ‘Jazwares Cares,’ which is dedicated to supporting the education and development of children in need.

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Lisa Wuennemann – Associate VP of Marketing, PlayMonster

Lisa loves promoting play. As PlayMonster’s Master Marketing Monster, she has spent 20 years making a career of playing with toys to help develop and market the best games and toys for children, families and adults. Lisa has been with PlayMonster (formerly Patch Products) for 15 years, where she delivered fun to brands such as Arby’s, KOA Kampgrounds, Pizza Hit, Curves, Six Flags and Princess Cruises. She manages PlayMonster’s radio, digital, TV advertising and influencer marketing, launching top brands like Chrono Bomb, Yeti in My Spaghetti and My Fairy Garden, and bringing play to guest celebrities on The Ellen Degeneres Show with party games 5 Second Rule and The Game of THINGS. Lisa also manages new product development, brand and innovation research, and inventor relations. Lisa’s hard work, dedication, and playful spirit have made her a respected leader and friend in the toy industry.

Vincent Apollo Imaoka

Vincent Apollo Imaoka – Manager of Global Toy Acquisitions, Hasbro, Inc.

Vincent was originally born in Los Angeles, California, but moved to Tokyo, Japan to pursue an International MBA. After graduating from Waseda University in Tokyo, he found work as an Assistant Producer in the Japanese entertainment industry, working on projects ranging from Anime to Live Events. As a side project, Vincent also worked as the Japanese Innovation Scout for Hasbro. Eventually, Vincent joined Hasbro’s Global Toy Acquisitions team to help bridge toy inventors all around the world with Hasbro.