Meet The Disruptive Factory Venture Team
The Disruptive Factory Venture Team is diverse, experienced and committed to disruptive excellence.
Our backgrounds touch on a wide range of industries and creative endeavors with execution depth and innovation. At our core, we focus on empowering our team and clients to create a more sustainable world with the avenues and tools for citizens, organizations, entrepreneurs, and companies to thrive, engage and contribute.
Cynthia A. Phillips, Founder
Cynthia A. Phillips, Founder of The Disruptive Factory, is an economist/agricultural economist as well as a business consultant to for-profit and social enterprises with over 25 years of experience in the areas of risk management, strategic planning, marketing, branding, analytics, big data, business development, sustainability, and global expansion. A former Director of International Marketing & Risk Management at American Express she consults with technology companies and start-ups such as Cisco Systems and Riverbed. She is the Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer for Vessl, Inc. a disruptive packaging company. She serves as a senior advisor to CEOs of disruptive companies like PlugnPlay Tech Center, Immunicom, BioLargo, Turnkey Group, and NimbusT. Phillips sits on several nonprofit boards such as Davis College|Akilah. Phillips is a champion of the 17 UN SDGs and supports nonprofit organizations as well as companies of any scale to integrate the SDGs into their business planning, Business Intelligence, ESG, and CSR. She is the founder of GlobalShiftTV, The Disruptive Factory, and The Disruptive Factory Media & Creative Group. A writer and producer, she has several projects in development including a TV Series on the life and legacy of Florence Nightingale.
References and endorsements for Phillips’ work can be found on LinkedIn.
Deb Churchill Luster, Co-Founder
Deb Churchill Luster is Co-Founder and Chief Branding & Marketing Strategist of The Disruptive Factory. Luster has been in the natural product industry since 1990, loves launching new companies and product lines and has established several companies including a publishing company, a food packaging technology company, a food consultant company and two nationwide food companies–CAN DO KID, Inc. which created all-natural snacks and empowering products for kids and a pasta food company – Annie’s Homegrown Inc. Deb started Annie’s Homegrown Inc. in 1990 with the two primary founders and helped build the company from the ground up. Deb served as President of Annie’s from 1991-1997 and was responsible for the overall management of the company including sales and marketing, raising capital from private investors, and expanding distribution across the US. She also created successful marketing and public relations campaigns for Annie’s including the Be Green environmental campaign and programs helping organizations for women, children, and education. In 1996, Ms. Luster spearheaded a direct public offering of Annie’s stock to their 90,000-person mailing list which created a media stir due to its unique qualities and inspired many articles including Hot-Wired, Forbes, Working Women, and The Wall Street Journal. Ms. Luster served on the board of Annie’s as Vice Chairman until 1999 and was an owner until it was sold in 2002.
Late 2005 Ms. Luster and her sister Chris Elders launched Can Do Kid, Inc. with two children’s books called I Can Do Anything! and I am Happy Just The Way I Am! Along with a line of products to inspire children to know that they CAN DO ANYTHING. Their line of CAN DO KID nutrition/energy bars were the first nutrition bar for children and were found in over 40 states and over 3,000 stores. The books were sold in every state in Toys R Us and bookstores and can still be found on Amazon. Can Do Kid grew up to Churchill Brands and Churchill Insights and moved away from snacks to include many other propositions around positive programs, products and advising natural food start-ups, emerging and high growth companies. The companies chosen to be under Churchill Brands/Insights are provocative and disruptive and enable them to share the many years of knowledge gleaned from their experiences.
Over the past twenty-five years, Ms. Luster has served on the boards and advisory boards of over twenty companies mostly in the natural food space, as well as four non-profits, colleges and dozens of executive boards in her community. She has been featured over the years in numerous articles including Working Women, Inc., Enterprising Women Magazine, Forbes, Business Ethics Magazine, Newsweek and Success magazine and has been on NBC, CBS and ABC News. Ms. Luster has been the keynote speaker for the National Association of Women Business Owners in San Francisco and New York City and has spoken at dozens of organizations, conferences and Universities Georgetown University, Stanford Business School, West Point Military Academy, Cottey Colley, and The Charter 100 Club.
Marie Studer is a Partner and Relationships Manager at The Disruptive Factory and Science & Society lead for The Disruptive Factory / Media & Creative division, championing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for our work with partners. She engages people with scientific and sustainability endeavors and helps mission-oriented organizations run professionally and smoothly. She is a scientist with a passion for connecting people with meaningful and creative explorations of the world that are relevant to them and our future. Her career has focused on public accessibility and understanding of science through government and public policy positions, to scientific and education leadership for international citizen science projects, to engaging formal and informal educators and youth in biodiversity learning using hands-on and online resources and tools. She is especially interested in creating awareness and action around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Marie has executive leadership experience in non-profit organizations and multi-institutional consortiums, with a proven record in strategic planning, strategic partnership development, organizational management and development, budgeting, fiscal control, staff development, stakeholder relations, and fundraising. As a collaborative leader, she listens and finds common ground, while ensuring vision and mission guide decisions. She enjoys networking and connecting people, ideas and projects to deliver outcomes and impact. She has held positions as Staff Scientist for the Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Program, Chief Scientist for Earthwatch Institute, and as Director of Learning + Education for the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL). She serves on several boards and committees for organizations working to support sustainable communities and environments.
Denise Pines is a Partner at The Disruptive Factory. She is the co-visionary and head taskmaster for Tea Botanics. An award-winning marketer and serial entrepreneur, Denise has participated in 10 startups, including two multimedia companies and a foundation with Tavis Smiley. She has 20+ years of management, sales, and marketing experience in “personality” brand management and traditional media. Pines has a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing from San Francisco State University, a Master’s degree in international business from John F. Kennedy University and a Master’s degree in finance from Stanford University. She currently serves as President of the California Medical Board.
She served as President for The Smiley Group from 1998 to 2010. She launched Pines One Publications in 1993. Prior to starting her business over 15 years ago, Ms. Pines held management positions at AT&T, Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, and The Gap.
Jessi Flynn is a Partner at The Disruptive Factory. With 20 years of experience in landscape architecture, agriculture and forestry, international community development work, and business development and entrepreneurship, she brings a holistic, design thinking approach to work on nature and people-based solutions. She is a designer, an ecologist, a brewer, and a systems thinker.
Jessi is a landscape architect focused on One Health Design. She developed the concept design and curriculum framework for the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture, an agricultural campus based on the concept of One Health with MASS Design Group. She has worked on site planning and landscape design for MASS’ University of Global Health Equity (Rwanda), New Redemption Hospital Caldwell (Liberia), Butaro Oncology Support Center (Rwanda), Nyarugenge District Hospital (Rwanda), Equal Justice Initiative’s Memorial for Peace and Justice (United States), and The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (Rwanda).
Jessi holds a BA in Journalism and Environmental Studies; graduated from the Master of Landscape Architecture program in Boston; served in the Peace Corps in Panama; as the Conservation Program Officer for Earthwatch Institute; and an Urban Forester for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. She is also a Massachusetts certified Arborist and Horticulturist. Jessi is also overseeing the startup of Kweza Craft Brewery, a female-led business, in Kigali, Rwanda.
Shazia is partner at The Disruptive Factory. She is the CEO/Co-founder at Beetbox. Shazia co-founded Beetbox to bridge the missed opportunities in STEM and nutrition in Early Education. The first to bring a truly instant solutions STEM/nutrition concept (think Blue Apron) to schools. Launched in 2018, Beetbox has already made important headway into multiple school sectors and states. Beetbox is planing to enter the consumer space in 2020. Shazia grew up in England and is now living in NYC where she is plugged into the start up/business ecosystem, with many resources and opportunities for businesses to utilize and grow, that apply across industries.
Shazia has strong skills in marketing, business development, business operations and an in-depth understanding of starting and growing a new business with a lean business mindset. She is a serial entrepreneur with a 20 year history of working in the education industry. She is the pioneer of a successful “Food Science” program in NYC preschools and is a Jamie Oliver Food Ambassador for NYC. She has a personal mission to positively impact children’s relationship with food through innovation and hands-on learning. She is a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, holder of a UK LLB (Hons) and a Chartered Institute of Marketing Postgraduate Diploma.
Natalia Olson-Urtecho, Co-Founder
Natalia Olson-Urtecho is Co-Founder & Chief Innovation Officer at The Disruptive Factory. She is an entrepreneur and recognized expert in government, commercialization of clean technologies, transportation, energy, environmental planning, public engagement, and infrastructure development. Prior to her current position as founder of InfraTechh21 and Co-Founder of The Disruptive Factory, she was appointed by President Obama as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator responsible for small business programs, financial assistance, and business development initiatives throughout the mid-Atlantic region managing 34 billion dollars in government contracts. She has held senior management positions in both the public and the private sector in the U.S., Central Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Natalia was appointed to Philadelphia’s Planning Commission and served as the Vice-Chair of the Zoning Code Commission, she was appointed to the U.S. Innovation Advisory Board to advise Congress and the White House on competitiveness. She has been honored with numerous prestigious awards, including recognition as a “Latina Powerhouse” by the Maryland Hispanic Business Conference, Most Influential Latino in Delaware Valley in 2014, Philadelphia Business Journal’s 2010 Minority Business Leader Award, and Woman of Distinction for her work in sustainable infrastructure & the green economy. She has an MS in City and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania.
Bridgett Luther, Co-Founder
Bridgett Luther is a Disruptor and Co-Founder of The Disruptive Factory. Previously she founded the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and was the former director of California’s Department of Conservation under Governor Schwarzenegger. She was appointed to her second term on the USEPA’s National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology.
She graduated from Vanderbilt University. She lives in San Francisco and has two grown children.
Sherry Cameron MBA, Co-Founder
Sherry Cameron is Co-Founder & Global Special Projects Manager at The Disruptive Factory. Sherry was born into a multigenerational restaurant family. She spent her youth learning all aspects of the food industry. After getting her MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management, she went off into the world and became a global executive leading successful ventures in the United States, Australia, Singapore, and Mexico—with additional consulting work in the U.A.E.
Her 25+ years of work on four continents in myriad cultures and settings— from Asian entrepreneurs to Middle Eastern royalty—have given her an invaluable set of multicultural business skills. She has paired this with diverse not-for-profit experience in the area of personal service, alumni and constituent relations, business development, organizational assessment, and fundraising.
Cameron imported and exported various food and beverage products between Latin America and the U.S. at SJB Trading. She also served as a consultant for Mexican and U.S. companies on cross-border issues. During her time as regional manager for Let’s Eat, LLC of Singapore, the first restaurant guide in the country, Cameron also served as a Director for CitiProp Management Pte Ltd, which developed the property holdings of multinational corporations in Asia. In Australia, she was a co-owner and managing director for Axiome Fine Foods Pty Ltd., a farm-to-table distributor of high-end specialty foods, managing and directing all aspects of the business. Cameron holds a master’s in counseling from the University of New England, in New South Wales, Australia. She consults with organizations seeking to build strategic, innovative, and outcomes-driven philanthropic and constituent-relations programs.
Stephen Smith, Partner and Managing Director of Venture Development & Global Strategy
Stephen Smith is a Partner and Managing Director of Venture Development & Global Strategy at The Disruptive Factory. Stephen has more than three decades of experience leading multiple businesses to strong growth and profitability. His success stems from driving exceptional customer loyalty through high-performing teams and a commitment to purpose-driven branding.
He has rebuilt troubled businesses and those struggling during economic downturns by prioritizing innovation, customer relationships, and market expansion, always ensuring operational excellence and tightly managing the P&L within a reshaped financial footprint. He is a hands-on leader, with equal loves for strategy and implementation and a strong belief that most problems can be solved through better communications and finding win-win solutions to advance his organization’s position in the market.
Stephen’s breadth of business experience is a powerful asset for The Disruptive Factory. He has excelled in positions in sales, sales training, marketing, business development, product management, operations management, channel and technology partnership development, and strategic planning. He has led multiple cross-business-unit ventures, including company-wide innovation initiatives, global enterprise-wide sales reorganizations, multiple cross-business-unit product development launches with combined branding initiatives. He has general management experience in multiple start-ups, turnarounds, mergers and acquisitions, integrations, and international expansions.
Stephen tells everyone that joining The Disruptive Factory is a dream come true – an opportunity to take all of those years of business experience and apply them to initiatives that will create a more sustainable world. He has happily shared his TDF excitement with his children and granddaughter and believes they are as excited as he is. A Political Science and English major from St. Lawrence University, former newspaper reporter, and volunteer for the Appalachia Service Project, when he is not on the sidelines of a soccer or lacrosse field, Stephen can be found climbing a mountain or skiing down one.
Eric Preston, Partner and Director of Ventures & Investing
Eric Preston, Partner, and Director of Ventures & Investing at The Disruptive Factory is also a business lawyer, MBA, and self-taught computer programmer. Preston has worked in big law, spent time at large financial institutions, helped grow a successful fintech startup RKT (NYSE), and founded a digital consumer-facing marketplace.
Passionate about innovation, creative marketing, corporate strategy, and finance, Preston continues to consult a handful of emerging companies on their products, partnerships, intellectual property, marketing, and finances. Designated a ‘Top Negotiator’ in law school and champion of multiple innovation contests including the General Motors Innovation Competition in late 2018, Preston is always looking for ways to innovate and drive value both domestically and internationally for businesses in a multitude of industries.
Preston received his Juris Doctor degree, Cum Laude, from Michigan State University College of Law, Master of Business Administration degree from the Broad College of Business at Michigan State University, and Bachelor of Arts degree from Michigan State University. Preston also maintains an active position at the Center for Venture Capital, Private Equity, and Entrepreneurial Finance at Michigan State University.
Ashley Conway Roberts
Ashley Conway Roberts Partner and Vice President of Strategic Communications at The Disruptive Factory. Ashley is a communications consultant and strategist with expertise in multi-platform digital marketing, demand generation and thought leadership development across industries (healthcare IT, international social enterprise competitions, oil and gas, food system innovation, and tourism). She has held senior leadership positions in the healthcare technology space and is passionate about building and scaling communications and marketing programs for startups and social enterprises across industries. Ashley grew up in Africa and Europe and is currently based in Austin, TX, where she is very involved in the local network of mission-driven businesses, startups, and nonprofit organizations. Her expertise in building marketing and communications infrastructure for startups, developing robust online communities, running comprehensive content campaigns and producing events comes from consulting and working with high-growth technology companies such as NarrativeDx, Verb and previous Verb clients (Dell, IBM, TOMS, LIVESTRONG, The Everglades Foundation), Afoundria, and many more. These experiences have instilled a deep, lifelong belief in the transformative power of businesses doing good. Ashley has a Master’s degree in strategic communications from The University of Texas at Austin, TX.
Connie Nelson is Partner & Executive Assistant and Special Projects Manager at The Disruptive Factory. Connie approaches projects with energy. She is an enthusiastic, strategic thinker with an ability and strong track record of successfully implementing change and developing new programs. She has over 8 years of experience working with non-profit healthcare agencies. Her involvement in for-profit groups includes being a team member in startups involved in data science and in facilitating in-market learning initiatives in various international markets to be integrated into executive development programs and leadership summits. She has a BS degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona.
Blair O’Neil is Partner & Graphic Design and Concept Communications Specialist at The Disruptive Factory. Part Crazy Disruptor, part player-by-the-rules, he’s loved by anyone that enjoys a fresh and often fun approach. Blair is an analytical thinker with artist sensibilities, a “creative” professional with a splash of the practical strategist and a trained eye for detail along with a job well done. Blair has 30+ years working alongside startups as well as big-name international corporations in corporate communications support & branding, product branding, brand packaging, advertising brand placements, and rollouts. His industry experiences include traditional & alternative health, wellness & nutrition, science & research organizations, engineering & architectural firms, life sciences & digital technology, private sector & government agency environmental programs, upscale food & eateries, wine & spirits, legal firms as well product packaging and service branding. .
Narek Sahakyan is Director of Data & Analytics at The Disruptive Factory. Narek is an Economist and recent USC graduate of International Public Policy and Management. Originally from Armenia, he has a background in both economics and more than 8 years of working experience as a business consultant and project coordinator.
While in Armenia, Narek Sahakyan has been involved in more than 30 research projects commissioned by famous international organizations such as World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), World Vision, etc. His main areas of expertise include business and investment planning, strategic planning, market research, analytics, as well as program implementation and evaluation.
Peter Geib is an Associate and Partnership and Engagement Manager (Brazil) at The Disruptive Factory. Peter is a multilingual Global Citizen with nearly two decades’ experience in international business; innovative and efficient green tech promotion, coalition building; 17 UN SDGs Advocacy, project finance facilitation, diplomacy, and public affairs. He is a former International Business Director at CSM International & CEO of CSM do BRASIL,EVP at LivelyUp, the World Sports Alliance IGO’s communications agency. Founder & CEO of Pierre & Marie Group. Executive Consultant to Innovative Green Tech German Companies TESVOLT, Energy Storage Experts, and Sunfire, a developer and manufacturer of clean and efficient Fuel Cell technology solutions for the fields of off-grid power and heat generation, energy storage, and green fuels production, for the Brazil and USA Markets.
Peter also serves as CEO of P&M Music Publishing, a P&M Group company, promoting Musical Talent and Licensing original content in the Americas and European Markets in cooperation with the New York-based Holding Group, StadiumRed.
Thomas Charts is an Associate and the Strategic Partnership Manager (Europe) at The Disruptive Factory. Thomas has over 20 + years of experience in business management, innovation, and business development. He has a sound and thorough understanding of business visioning, business development and furthering business expansion. Thomas has a keen eye for current and future technological developments. He has traveled extensively and seeks out important startups at various Expos and Technical conferences.
Thomas often works under the guidance of a European Innovation Center or a Startup Accelerator program. He has helped build up a unique portfolio of Clean Techand Disruptive Technologies along with the collaboration of The Disruptive Factory. Together they seek to accelerate Technological change in addressing and promoting Ecological Sustainability, help to define clear aspects of Fairness in Income Inequality and truly understand and promote Planetary Biodiversity.