Rising Star 2022

The Rising Star Award recognizes the next generation of leaders around the world for their commitment, passion and contributions to their company and the licensing industry. Since 2012, Rising Stars are nominated each year from across the global brand licensing community. In 2022, the Rising Stars were recognized and celebrated at the Hall of Fame Gala Luncheon in New York in December.

Applications for 2023 Rising Stars will open in the summer and be celebrated at our Hall of Fame Gala Luncheon on December 6, 2023

Meet the 2022 Rising Stars

Katie Kotchka

Senior Manager, Consumer Products Licensing at Warner Bros. Discovery

Based in U.S.

In her role, Cruse oversees licensees and new business across HGTV, Food Network, and Animal Planet brands and sub-brands, developing and executing near and long-term licensing strategies by brand, category, and retailer. She manages licensees across the toy, home, QSR, and food categories and maintains strong relationships with retail licensees including Macy’s and Target. Cruse’s responsibilities also include budgeting, forecasting, sales prospecting, contract negotiation, product development, and product approvals. Cruse began her career at Iconix Brand Group, where she worked with classic character brands including Peanuts and Strawberry Shortcake supporting licensees across the toy, gift, and seasonal categories. She is based in New York City, is an avid cook and loves traveling in her spare time.

Zach Fiegel

Director, Consumer Products Partnerships at NBA

Based in U.S.

Zach Fiegel joined the NBA’s Associates Program in 2014 and began his licensing career in 2015, working as a coordinator for the NBA’s global merchandising business. Today, he is part of the team that manages the NBA’s global merchandising partnerships in the apparel, headwear, basketball, and eCommerce categories, working with partners including Nike, New Era, Wilson, Fanatics, Outerstuff, and Mitchell & Ness to grow merchandise’s impact as an engagement tool with fans around the globe. Zach grew up in Illinois, graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2014, and is a proud brother of four younger siblings.

Melanie Kaplan

Licensing Manager at Sesame Workshop

Based in U.S.

Melanie Kaplan is licensing manager at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit media and educational organization behind Sesame Street. Kaplan, who has been at the Workshop since 2020, manages the customization and print-on-demand business and oversees the marketing and product development across a variety of categories in North America including apparel, accessories, footwear, health and beauty, food, and infant. She works directly with brands to elevate Sesame Street through unique collaboration executions, most recently with Pair Eyewear, Under Armour, Pottery Barn Kids, Hanna Andersson, and Hedley & Bennett. Kaplan, who resides in New York, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Media Management from The State University of New York at New Paltz. Prior to joining Sesame Workshop, she worked in merchandising at Marvel Entertainment.

Jimmy Lee

Licensing Director at Semk Holdings International

Based in China

Jimmy Lee has been fascinated by character images since childhood. He studied strategic brand management for his Master’s degree at the University of Hull, England. After graduating, he joined Semk Global Marketing in 2017 and was responsible for licensing events and themed parks in the Mainland China market, where he gained experience in everything from project planning to implementation. He has also developed a number of cultural and tourism licensing and F&B projects. Now, Jimmy is in charge of Semk’s LBE business, where he focuses on implementing new licensing strategies for its characters and the market.

Deputy General Counsel at Beanstalk

Based in the U.S.

Arianna is responsible for representing high-profile celebrity and corporate clients in all legal matters relating to brand equity and extension, as well as enforcing and protecting clients’ intellectual property rights. Arianna leads negotiations and drafts international commercial agreements for licenses, publishing, sponsorship, marketing, vendors, product, eCommerce and advertising. Additionally, Arianna facilitates short-term and long-range strategic planning approaches across the legal and business teams to grow Beanstalk in the U.S. and internationally. Arianna began her full-time career at Beanstalk in 2018 and has more than five years of experience in the legal field, with a keen understanding of the licensing industry. She received her BA in government and politics at the University of Maryland and her Juris Doctor from New York Law School.

Tetiana Ruban

CEO of Nerd Agency

Based in Ukraine

Tetiana led the Nerd Agency in 2020. She gathered a team, acquired brands in the middle of the pandemic, and played a major part in closing licensing deals. Nerd Agency has launched dozens of licensed products with these licensing partners. And even now, regardless of the war in Ukraine, the agency continues to operate, acquiring new properties, making new deals, and launching products. Nerd Agency went international and is now focused on the CEE market. Additionally, Tetiana was the idea author and general producer of the charity licensed brand ‘Call me Ukraine.’ Tetiana holds a doctorate of philosophy in international economics from Kyiv National Economics University.

Recipients of the Rising Star Award will enjoy:

One Year of Mentoring with a Seasoned Licensing Professional
Complimentary Access to the Certification of Licensing Studies Program (CLS)
Feature Article in Licensing International’s NewsLinks
Opportunity to Mentor Future Rising Stars

Rising Star Criteria


35 years old and under


Minimum three to maximum seven years of experience in licensing


Demonstrates a commitment to and passion for the brand licensing industry


Seeks additional professional development opportunities to improve skills


Has shown innovation in their work


Demonstrates leadership capabilities

Past Rising Stars

James Choi

James Choi

Senior Associate


Addie Dorsey

Addie Dorsey Goossens

Licensing Manager EMEA


Rachel Hak

Rachel Hak

Category Manager, Apparel/Accessories/Health & Beauty


Kevin Ramsey

Kevin Ramsey

Founder & CEO

Warren James

Jyoti Sardana

Jyoti Sardana

Sr. Manager of Licensing Strategy and Operations

OneTeam Partners

Carolina Verdugo

Carolina Verdugo

Director of Brand Management


Krystyna Braxton

Apparel Licensing Manager

NFL Players, Inc.

Allison Cimino

CEO & Designer


Carolina Garcia

Senior Category Manager

Stationery, Home & FHBP, Cinecolor Colombia

Gao Qiang

Video Commercialization Center Licensing Director


Hannah Stevens

Head of Retail

The Point.1888

Louis Yenik

Licensing Manager


Barbara Adu

Product Manager


Sophie Booth

Business Development Manager

Brandgenuity Europe

Nemo Bussu

Licensing Manager

KIDdesigns, Inc.

Hélène El Arouni

Sr. Consumer Products Manager

TF1 Entertainment/Licenses

Pablo Franco

Sr. Manager, Operations & Licensing

International Management Group

Sophie Hunter

Director, Branded Integrations


Mireille Maragakis

Manager, Contacts Advisory


Kalle Törmä

Founder & CEO


Mariana Orvañanos

La Panadería Licensing & Marketing

Nick Manzo

Seltzer Licensng Group

Leon Maratchi

Cartoon Network

Peter Cross

Broad Street Licensing Group

Mimi Nicosia

CPG, Nickelodeon

Mandy Bardisbanian

Hot Topic

Meghan Mernin

Epic Rights

Sally Russell

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Fernanda Coutinho


Danielle Tanton

DHX Brands, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Yuki Jinza

Laura Ashley Japan Co.

Curtis Matthews

Striker Entertainment

Ryan McDonald

NFL Players Association

Lauren Montemaro


Will Ochoa


Claire Pierce

Meredith Coporation

Becky Quinn

Sesame Workshop

Naomi Rosenzweig

Berkshire Fashions

Nancy Sanieoff

Brand Central

Andi Scher

Richmond Management Group

Nicole Silberstein

License Global magazine & Conference Director, NYC Licensing Summit

Samantha Yang

Shanghai Skynet Brand Management Corp

Katelyn Cozzi


Stephanie Marlis

Creative Licensing

Stephanie Candiloro

Warner Bros. CP, Australia

Milin Shah


Ivonne Feliciano

Sesame Workshop

Kelley Davison

Added Extras

Lauren Fields

Brand Central LLC

Marisa Marionakis

Cartoon Network

Will Depippo

Sesame Workshop

Caitlin Gutekunst

Mind Candy

Andrew Ostrom

Harley-Davidson Motor Company

Jess Richardson


Anthony Shaut

Spielman Koenigsberg & Parker LLP

David Tovey

Mind Candy

Emily Wickerham

IMC Licensing

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