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The New American Dream | Disruption Now Media

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Aja Hardy
gBeta Cleveland, Director

Ája Hardy is the Director of gBETA Cleveland business accelerator, a program of nationally ranked gener8tor. Ája will serve as the local conduit between the Cleveland startup ecosystem and the broader gener8tor network and will lead up to two annual cohorts of the gBETA program. 

Previous to gener8tor, Ája was a FUSE Corps executive fellow with the City of Cleveland, where she developed private/public partnerships aimed at bolstering funding and development of early-stage businesses with Kiva, Square and Grow with Google.  Most recently, she was head of strategy and partnerships for a dental tech startup and an advisor to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT), Prime Health, and General Assembly. 

Ája has also served in leadership roles at Deloitte, Cerner Corporation, and Abbott Laboratories. She has an MPH from Tulane School of Public Health, an MBA from the Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and a B.S. from Xavier University. 

Whitney Gaskins
University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science, Assistant Dean of Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement

Dr. Gaskins is the Assistant Dean of Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement in the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science, the only African-American female currently teaching in the faculty of the College of Engineering. Whitney earned her Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering, her Masters of Business Administration in Quantitative Analysis and her Doctorate of Philosophy in Biomedical Engineering/Engineering Education. In her role as Assistant Dean, Dr. Gaskins has revamped the summer bridge program to increase student support and retention as well as developed and strengthened partnerships in with local area school districts to aid in the high school to college pathway. She serves as the Principal Investigator for both the Choose Ohio First Program (COF) and Ohio LSAMP grants. Through these grant programs the students receive competitive scholarship funding and professional development workshops which help prepare them to enter into the STEMM workforce.

In 2009, she founded The Gaskins Foundation, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to educate and empower the African American community. Her foundation recently launched the Cincinnati STEMulates year round K-12 program, which is a free of charge program that will introduce more students to Math and Science. She was named the 2017 K12 Champion by the National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates (NAMEPA). In 2015, Dr. Gaskins was awarded the Janice A Lumpkin Educator of the Year Golden Torch Award. In 2019, she was recognized by the Greater Cincinnati Chamber as a Black History Maker. She was a recipient of the Dr. Terry Kershaw Faculty Excellence Award and the Excellence in Teaching Award from the University of Cincinnati for her innovative honors course Sticky Innovation ( She was also inducted in the 40 under 40 class of 2019.

Anne Richie
The Mezzanine Fund, Fund Manager

Anne is the Fund Manager of The Mezzanine Fund which provides flexible capital to businesses owned by women and people of color in support of scaling strategies.  She is also the founder of ACR Capital which advises and invests in growth companies.

For more than 20 years, Anne managed distressed asset portfolios for Citicorp, Wells Fargo and KeyBank, completing capital restructurings ranging from $10 - 200 million for companies in more than 20 industries.  She has strong structuring and negotiating skills and forges deep relationships with founders and owners.  After a successful career in corporate banking, she then served as chief restructuring officer and chief financial officer for a private equity-owned jet engine parts manufacturer with $27 million in revenue that was spun-off from TRW.   She was responsible for developing the turnaround strategy, negotiating collective bargaining agreements for the unionized workforce of 250 and securing a $6 million financing package from an alternative lender and a large customer. More recently, Anne was a venture partner for JumpStart, a non-profit venture capital firm working with companies across three technology funds.

Anne is a frequent panelist and speaker on the subject of capital access.  Through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative, Anne advises and draws insights from 100+ companies per year. Anne serves on the boards of BioInVision, a bio-tech company and EnDepth Data, a fin-tech start-up.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Smith College and a Masters of Business Administration in Finance from the University of Michigan.

Carlton R. Collins
Engines That Work, Co-Founder

Carlton Robert Collins is an activist, author, consultant, entrepreneur, and speaker with over a decade of experience in education ranging from recruitment of minority educators nationwide, strategic development for clientele as well as college placement and career exploration for scholars throughout Greater Cincinnati and Metro Atlanta. In 2011, Collins founded EDUC8theWORLD, an educational consultancy that has national and regional clientele focused on driving innovative cultural engagement solutions and youth development for youth and young adults.  

He is a 2011 graduate of Morehouse College with a Bachelor's in History with a concentration in Child Development. In 2017, he published his first book, Resist Every Bias on Every Level (REBEL) focused on Black Male Achievement and critical thinking in this age of followers. In 2018, he co-founded Engines That Work, a minority business development firm based in Cincinnati with aspirations to create viable business channels regionally throughout the Tri-State. In 2020, Carlton, as part of The Heights Movement, a community development organization, launched My Brother's Keeper (MBK) Lincoln Heights in partnership with the Obama Foundation.  He has served on numerous boards and aided in numerous initiatives including becoming the youngest National Secretary of Morehouse College Alumni Association. He is married with two children living in the Cincinnati area. 

Rob Richardson
Disruption Now Media, Founder & Host

Rob Richardson is the host of Disruption Now Podcast and the owner of Disruption Now Media an interactive platform focused on connecting, empowering and funding black and brown entrepreneurs and leaders.

Disrupting is a personal mission for Rob. As an elementary and middle school student, Rob was enrolled in learning disability classes where he was told that he would never be capable of going to college. He not only proved the teacher wrong but has dedicated his life to empowering others who have been counted out. While attending the University of Cincinnati, Richardson established the first collegiate chapter of the NAACP in the tristate area.   In 2008, Rob was asked by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland to serve on UC’s Board of Trustees.

In 2016, Rob was elected as the youngest Chair in the history of the University of Cincinnati.  Rob had the responsibility of leading the search for the 30th President, Dr. Neville Pinto.  During his tenure, Rob established the UC Scholars Academy, a leadership development and academic preparedness program for students in Cincinnati Public Schools; raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for student scholarships including the largest corporate diversity scholarship at UC; established the 1819 innovation hub, and led the first ever Next Lives Here Innovation Summit.

In 2018, Rob ran statewide as the democratic nominee for Ohio Treasure championing his vision of economic equality and innovation, receiving over 2 million votes and raising over 2.5 million dollars. While he didn't win, he continues to disrupt and fight for others.

Rob graduated from Winton Woods High School and earned a BS in Electrical Engineering and a JD,  from the University of Cincinnati.

The American Dream has always been aspirational and until recent history has been largely unavailable; so what is the American Dream?