At no other time in history have we been surrounded by so many innovators and expansive thinkers with the ability to talk directly to us. Listen each week as we talk to people who are on a mission to build a better, safer and more connected future for all of us. Are you in? Listen and Subscribe Today! 


Mike Hess


Ai Addyson-Zhang

Classroom without walls

Lawrence Wagner

Spark mindset

Lauren Gifford


Liz Giorgi


Ethan Decker

Applied brand science

Aditi Joshi


John Ulm


Peter McGraw
Author, Professor Of Marketing and Psychology,


Shane Mauss


Ryan Holdaway
Vice President of Outcomes,

Lambda School

Jill Banks
Director, Learning Operations,


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Mike Hess

Mike Hess is the founder and executive director of the Blind Institute of Technology and serves on its Board of Directors. Determined to reduce the high unemployment rate among skilled blind and visually impaired IT and tech professionals in the U.S.,  Mike leads BIT’s mission to prepare blind and visually impaired people and the employers who hire them for success in the workplace.

Before founding BIT – a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Colorado in February 2013 – Mike spent four years as a senior software engineer for Level 3 Communications, where he led a variety of IT and other technical projects. Prior to Level 3, Mike held IT, software engineering and other technical positions with Qwest, U.S. West and other companies during the course of his 18-year career.

Mike, who has been legally blind since first grade, graduated from Community College of Denver (CCD) in 1995 with a certificate in applications programing and also received the Student of the Year award from the Computer Training for People with Disabilities (CTPD) program.

An English proverb states, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Mike began his journey as a disabled person at the age of seven in a small, Midwestern town in Ohio. As an April Fools baby, he was a natural class clown and wanted to sit in the back of the class cracking jokes as early as first grade. He quickly moved to the front of the class after realizing he was not able to see the chalkboard.

After visiting several optometrists, Mike ended up in a large Cleveland hospital. It was there that he and his mother learned that Mike was losing his sight and would be completely blind by the age of 18. At such a young age, he had no idea what blind even meant. When he asked his mom, she simply stated that he was going to be special. At this point, in many ways, Mike began to fulfill her prophecy.

Mike’s mom was determined to keep him within the public schools and did not want to send him to a school for blind and deaf children. Disabled children are commonly placed into special learning programs within the public school system and Mike was no exception. This established a clear line in the sand with his classmates, stating plainly that he was different. However, he maintained the belief instilled in him by his mom that he was special, regardless of the large print books and dark colored paper he needed to aid his learning. Mike learned to make friends quickly and refused to allow classmates to bully him for being blind. Thus, Mike plotted the course along his thousand-mile journey by either engaging people with his sense of humor or by being tough.

At the start of junior high school, Mike’s family moved to Colorado and it was there that Mike began using low-vision technologies for the first time. His secondary school education was split between proactively learning the skills he would need in the future to live as a totally blind person (cane training and Braille classes) and the low-vision technologies that would assist him in the present.

Throughout his college career, Mike had to continue pushing through challenges. With the limited technology at that time, he needed to collaborate with others and use alternative methods to achieve success. In one instance, he paired up with a fellow student who had carpal tunnel syndrome. Mike was able to do the typing while his classmate acted as his eyes. So as a blind young person, Mike had experienced the shunning of someone who is different, but also the thrill of achieving goals that were widely considered unattainable for a blind person. His success and accomplishments continued to grow, and so did Mike’s belief that his journey was meant for greatness.

Immediately after college, Mike married his wife, Natalie, and adopted her two daughters. His family grew again in 2008 with the addition of Maddox (aka ‘Little Man’). Mike believes it’s important to show his children and others that his disability does not affect his life and that he is just as capable as people who have sight. Mike’s family continues to be his driving force whenever it seems like the world is unfair, supporting and inspiring him as he inspires others through all his successes and challenges.

Mike’s family, friends and business colleagues have seen him live his mantra that vision loss is simply an inconvenience and nothing more. They have watched Mike keep a positive attitude throughout all his trials and tribulations. In addition to his education and career accomplishments, Mike competed in martial arts, became a snow and water skier, ran half marathons and climbed 14,000 foot mountains.

Mike’s journey has been both trying and thrilling. However, his thousand miles are far from over. Thanks to his leadership, Board of Directors, corporate partners, talented blind and visually impaired IT and tech pros, family, friends and volunteers, the current phase of Mike’s journey – the Blind Institute of Technology — is materializing right before his mind’s eye.

Listen to Mike

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Ai Addyson-Zhang

Show Notes

Ai's website:

Download a copy of Ai's workbook, what parents need to know to future proof your kids:

Learn more about Ai's Life Accelerator program:

About Ai

Dr. Ai Addyson-Zhang is an educator and an entrepreneur. She received her MA and Ph.D. in Communication from Syracuse University and the University of Maryland. Ai is the founder of Classroom Without Walls, an alternative school for entrepreneurship. As an Adobe Education Leader, Ai is passionate about incorporating social media and creative technologies to enhance student learning and to acquire skills that help them become future-ready. Ai’s work has been featured in ForbesInside Higher EducationPearson Education, and Mark Schafer’s book among others. She additionally contributes to Entrepreneur and Thrive Global. Ai hosts two weekly live streaming shows, where she interviews thought leaders in social media and education such as Seth Godin. Ai is also a HubSpot Academy instructor, and frequently speaks at academic and industry conferences including VidCon, Global Marketing Day, Social Media Week Lima (the largest social media marketing conference in the midwest, and others.

Listen to Ai

Join us at 4Front to meet Ai in person.

Lawrence Wagner

Lawrence Wagner is an eight-year Army veteran who also is Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Spark Mindset. Lawrence has over ten years of project management experience, along with a background in military, cybersecurity, high-tech business, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and human design thinking. Lawrence has a Master’s Degree in Business Management from Colorado Technical University. He also received leadership training from Leadership Pikes Peak Signature Program and Center for Creative Leadership Community Leadership Program and is currently serving on the Colorado Workforce Development Council. Now living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he is originally from Cleveland, Ohio and is a huge Ohio State Buckeyes, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Cleveland Browns fan.

Listen to Lawrence

Join us at 4Front to meet Lawrence in person.

Lauren Gifford

Lauren Gifford, PhD is a critical geographer exploring the intersections of global climate change policy, conservation, markets and justice. Her work asks how, and by whom, climate and conservation policies are enacted. She is a Research Affiliate at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and teaches courses on climate change and human-environment interactions at CU Boulder and Metropolitan State University of Denver. She is founder of the Somes Group, a climate and environmental policy consulting firm that helps governments, foundations, NGOs and start-ups understand financialized conservation management and carbon pricing. She is also host of the podcast Carbon Social Club.

Dr. Gifford holds a PhD in Geography from University of Colorado, Boulder, an MA in Environmental Studies from Dartmouth College, a BA in Communications from American University, and completed courses in greenhouse gas and forest carbon accounting through the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute (GHGMI). She has conducted mixed methods field research in the Peruvian Amazon, on Cuban organic farms, throughout Maine’s forests, at the United Nations’ annual climate negotiations, and at countless civil society meetings around the world. Recently she’s been studying the use of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology to verify carbon offsets.

Join us at 4Front to meet Lauren.

Liz Giorgi

Elizabeth Giorgi is a media entrepreneur and Emmy-Award winner. Her newest company, soona, is a same-day photo and video studio that provides professional, custom photo and video for less than the price of stock content. Her first company, Mighteor, was the world’s first professional production company to specialize in internet ads. She is a passionate advocate for women in production and entrepreneurship and the creator of the Candor Clause – an effort to level the playing field for women raising venture capital. You can learn more about her businesses at and

Join us at 4Front to meet Liz in person.


Ethan Decker

Ethan Decker, PhD, is president of Applied Brand Science. Ethan unearths and distills the latest and most relevant research on marketing and human behavior to increase the effectiveness of his clients’ advertising and branding expenditures. Having spent a dozen years leading strategy and research at some of the world’s best agencies for some of the world’s biggest brands, he saw firsthand the waste and damage that many modern marketing beliefs and “best practices” are causing to firms. Now he is pioneering the field of brand science to help companies that want to embrace a more effective, evidence-based approach to advertising and brand growth.

Join us at 4Front to meet Ethan in person.

Aditi Joshi

Aditi U. Joshi MD, MSc is Medical Director of JeffConnect, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s on-demand  telemedicine program and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine. Her position is multi-faceted in telehealth and tele-intake: working in operations, quality assurance, provider training, resident and medical education and implementing new programs and use cases for telehealth. She is also co-director of the Digital Health Scholarly Inquiry Track at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, teaching medical students how digital health technologies will influence their careers. She runs a Telehealth fellowship for physicians. Nationally, she is the chair elect for the American College of Emergency Physicians telehealth working group and on the consensus committee for Society of Academic Emergency Medicine’s consensus conference. Prior to Jefferson, she worked at a telemedicine startup, learning barriers in uptake, marketing and business development. She is considered an expert in acute care telehealth and regularly speaks on the topics of how digital technologies will impact the future of healthcare and the workforce. She completed her residency at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and has a Masters in International Health Policy from the London School of Economics.

Join us at 4Front to meet Aditi in person.

John Ulm

About John

John is an Engineering Fellow for CommScope CTO Network Solutions group, investigating Advanced Technologies for Broadband Systems. John was inducted into the Cable TV Pioneers in 2019 as part of the DOCSIS Inaugural class.
Recent research includes:
• Next generation HFC distributed access architectures
o including Remote PHY, Remote MACPHY
• FTTx migration strategies for HFC: Fiber Deep N+0, FTTC & FTTH
• DOCSIS 3.1/4.0 and its futures: Full Duplex (FDX) & Extended Spectrum
• Network capacity modeling
• IP Video solutions featuring multicast- ABR
John’s three decades in the Broadband industry began as architect and MAC developer at LANcity, pioneering the industry’s first cable modems. He was a primary author for the Cable Industry’s DOCSIS 1.0 and 1.1 specifications. He also was senior technical consultant to Broadband industry with YAS Corp and Eng Fellow with Motorola’s Broadband Group and ARRIS Corp.

John holds a BSEE and MSEE from RPI and has a multitude of papers and patents to his name.


Join us at 4Front to meet John in person.

Peter McGraw

About Peter

Dr. Peter McGraw is a behavioral economist and global expert in the scientific study of humor. He directs The Humor Research Lab (HuRL), hosts the podcast I’M NOT JOKING, and is the co-author of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny. McGraw is a business school professor who teaches MBA courses for the University of Colorado Boulder, University of California San Diego, and London Business School. His work has been covered by The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, NPR, BBC, and CNN.

His book, Shtick to Business: What the Masters of Comedy can Teach You about Breaking Rules, Being Fearless, and Building a Serious Career, launches on April Fool’s Day 2020. Look for it on Amazon

Shtick to Innovation

Serious lessons in creativity and execution from the masters of comedy
The world’s best businesses think differently in their pursuit of novel problem-solving. The world’s funniest people, too, think differently in their pursuit of laughs on command.
After more than a decade studying humor, sharing stages with comics, and hanging out with them in dingy green rooms, a behavioral economist pulls back the curtain to give you a glimpse into the mysterious world of stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy.
Dr. Peter McGraw presents entertaining business lessons gleaned from the practices and perspectives of the masters of comedy—and most creative rule-breakers:
• How a simple “101” comedy trick used by Chris Rock, Ali Wong, and nearly every other comedian can overcome biases and reveal new business opportunities.
• Why Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s approach to comedy is the model for the radical collaboration needed to implement creative solutions.
• What tactic Jim Gaffigan and the writers of The Onion use to enhance inventive thinking.
• How to develop Jerry Seinfeld’s comic-as-outside perspective in order to identify new growth opportunities and fearlessly smash the status quo.
McGraw’s inspiring insights will help you uniquely solve problems, craft messages that cut through the clutter, and create ground-breaking products and captivating brands.
And you will never have to tell a joke.

Join us at 4Front to meet Peter in person.

Shane Mauss

About Shane

Shane Mauss is a stand-up comedian whose act focuses on science communication and consciousness. Hailing from rural Wisconsin, Mauss is best known for his appearances Conan, Jimmy Kimmel, Comedy Central and Showtime and podcasts including The Joe Rogan Experience, Pete Holmes' You Made it Weird, the Duncan Trussell Family Hour and many more. Shane's natural interest in science is showcased in his podcast Here We Are, featuring interviews with over 300 scientists about the brain, behavior, and decision making. He currently on tour with his show Stand Up Science, where in each city he is joined by two scientists for a half comedy, half science show. Shane is a special contributor to Dr. Peter McGraw's forthcoming book Shtick to Business (2020), which presents serious business lessons from masters of comedy.


Join us at 4Front to meet Shane in person.

Ryan Holdaway

About Ryan

Ryan Holdaway is an educator passionate about helping people unlock their potential, regardless of circumstance. When he isn't helping Lambda School students build real-life software applications or prepare for job interviews, he's playing golf, watching baseball, or taking his three little daughters to Disneyland.

We started Lambda School because we believe that the “traditional” model of higher education is broken. Every year, people as young as 17 years old take on tens of thousands of dollars in student debt and pray that the education they’re investing in will land them on a job on the other side.

Unfortunately, traditional colleges and universities have no incentive to ensure their graduates get hired – they get paid regardless.

At Lambda School, we believe there is a better way to approach education.

Instead of asking our students to bet on us, we bet on them first. Lambda’s model is built on Income Share Agreements (ISAs) – our students pay no tuition upfront, and agree to pay back 17% of their income post-graduation for two years, but only once they’re making $50,000 or more. And if they don’t find a high-paying job after 60 months of deferred payments? They pay nothing. This paradigm-shifting model allows us to align the incentives of the school with the incentives of our students – and we all win when our graduates succeed.

We’re in this together.

Join us at 4Front to meet Ryan in person.

Jill Banks

About Jill

Jill Banks is responsible for creating consistent learning experiences that leverage technology, next-generation educational science and data analytics to drive cable workforce technical expertise and ROI for the industry.

Prior to joining SCTE•ISBE in 2017, Jill spent 25 years serving in various learning and development capacities with multiple Fortune 500 companies, including General Electric, American International Group (AIG), and Farmers Insurance. With SCTE•ISBE, she has supported double-digit growth in course material and has been instrumental in the organization’s use of 3D simulations and other technologies to improve knowledge retention, reduce training time, and increase the impact on the organization. Her philosophy is that every encounter is a teachable moment at which persons can learn, develop, and grow regardless of age, profession, or titles.

In addition to her responsibilities with SCTE•ISBE, Jill serves on the Board of Directors for Chestnut Hill College. She has served on the Advisory Boards for the Farmers Insurance Group’s Women’s Inclusion Network supporting mentoring and Daddy University, Inc., geared at educating men in raising their children. Jill also has participated as a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters. In addition, she has volunteered for numerous community events, including Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure, Ronald McDonald House and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

Jill holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Millersville University and a Master’s in Business Administration at DeVry University.

Join us at 4Front to meet Jill in person.