An animated gif of the core members of the squad

Meet our unfair advantage —
a squad of investors and creators
from diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Jeff Cantalupo

Managing Partner, Founder

Jeff is an entrepreneur, investor, and brand builder who founded Listen in 2010. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Black Buffalo, The Fresh Factory (CSE:FRSH), Miss Grass, Fable and Modern Pediatrics. Prior to founding Listen, Jeff honed his craft at the global ad agency, Leo Burnett, where he strategized, energized, and innovated some of the world’s largest brands including Marlboro and Pop Tarts. In addition to Listen, Jeff is also an adjunct lecturer at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management teaching startup branding. He is also active in the community serving as a member of the Economic Club of Chicago and as Board Chair for Ronald McDonald House Charities Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana.

Joelle Cosmas


As a bridge builder and operational dynamo, Joelle spent her career guiding brand comms and fostering collaboration among brand, media, and PR teams. Prior to joining Listen, she made notable impacts at Leo Burnett, leading account efforts for prominent brands such as Philip Morris, Beef It’s What’s For Dinner, Whitewave, and TJX Companies. This led her to Listen, where she leverages her operational prowess to drive value add for Listen and our portfolio. You can find her steering investment operations, cultivating community and Listen events, orchestrating investor comms, and forging strategic partnerships that fuel growth. Outside of Listen, she serves as a board member of Friends of Prentice.

Rick Desai

Managing Partner, Investments

Rick is a Managing Partner at Listen and has invested in Jolie, Factor_, Own Up, Sigo Seguros, Public Goods and Dame. Prior to Listen, Rick founded Dashfire, a startup studio that built and invested in over 40+ companies from 2009 to 2014. He previously was an investor at Madison Dearborn Partners. In 2008, Rick was awarded a Clinton Fellowship in 2008 and spent one year leading social enterprise strategies in urban Indian slums. Rick is an Adjunct Entrepreneurship Lecturer at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, teaching New Venture Development and was awarded a Faculty Impact award in 2018. He is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Brentos Fernandez

Partner, Creative

Part creative problem-solver, part brand whisperer, Brentos has spent his career creating content-driven campaigns for consumer brands. He led brand and campaign development as Creative Director at Leo Burnett, Barkley and DDB advertising agencies. While at Listen, Brentos has developed and leads our brand process, helping entrepreneurs apply a brand lens to all aspects of their businesses.

Hylton Irons


Hylton has one foot in 2024 and the other in 2064. His curiosity and analytical finesse showed up at Brown University, where he majored in Economics, was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and studied abroad in Granada, Spain. Before joining Listen, Hylton honed his skills at Goldman Sachs managing IPOs, M&A transitions, and strategy alternatives within the healthcare space. He is an investor at Listen who loves to dig into digital health, consumer tech, and alternative protein brands and he’s always down to sample new products.

Nika Longo


In her element behind the scenes, Nika’s passion for creativity and her eye for detail empower teams in bringing brand creative to life. Before coming on board, Nika formed meaningful relationships with her creative and client teams to produce scrappy, quick-turn social media content to 360 campaigns for big brands at DDB and Energy BBDO. At Listen, she helps guide the brand process, collaborating with portfolio companies on our value-add creative product. Additionally, Nika helps drive awareness of the Listen brand through social media and happenings.

Alexis Queen

Consumer Listening

Alexis has a love for exploring the complex and illogical ways humans move through the world. Her journey from Harvard’s psych and computer science programs makes her the perfect person to zoom in and out of a brand’s perception and then create maps around patterns discovered. Alexis has made an art out of digital eavesdropping — using social listening as a window to look at online human interactions in order to make sense of trends, communities, and phenomena. At Listen, she supports our diligence process and our portfolio companies on the Listening team.

Ellen Wilcox

Consumer Listening + Investments

Fascinated by all things consumer, Ellen leads Listen's consumer research and insights practice — turning human stories into consumer insights and intellectual curiosity into investment conviction. Borrowing from her background in design thinking, she mixes qualitative and quantitative research methods to explore behavior shifts, center the consumer in due diligence, and help Listen portfolio companies design their organizations to listen. Her design ethos is heavily influenced by her roots — she blends the curiosity of a Montessori kid with the grit of a Deloitte consultant, the creativity of an IDEO designer, and the business acumen of a Kellogg MBA.

Johnnie Yu


With a past life in media studies and creative production, Johnnie brings an interdisciplinary approach to sourcing, analyzing, and supporting consumer brands. Prior to his role at Listen, he studied Cinema Studies at NYU, served as the President of Chinese Student Society, and worked with the Berkley Center of Entrepreneurship. Currently, he is a mentor at Techstars and XRC Ventures, specializing in all things brand and creative strategy. As an investor at Listen, Johnnie is drawn to brands that rewrite conventional playbooks and operate in the counterculture, particularly in alternative medicine, verticalized health, and CPG.

Our Venture Partners

Shawn Dennis

Venture Partner

Shawn joins the Listen team as a Venture Partner as we raise our third fund. Shawn has an incredible history of business and operational leadership to drive sustainable, profitable, and scalable business growth for major consumer brands. She’s spent her career at GoldieBlox, DreamWorks Animation, Mattel, Dell and the NFL. Shawn sits on the board for many companies, including Slumberkins.

Kofi Amoo-Gottfried

Venture Partner

When you’re building a consumer-focused brand, Kofi is the man to turn to for marketing magic. Kofi is the CMO at Doordash and a consumer marketing professional that is joining Listen as a Venture Partner. Named one of Ad Age’s “40 under 40” young marketing stars in 2014, he has led significant campaigns for Facebook, Nike, and Bacardi Global Brands.

Mike Apostal

Venture Partner

Mike has a proven track record as a successful entrepreneur that makes him an incredible Venture Partner for Listen. As the Co-Founder and CEO of Factor, he has built a rapidly-growing, nationally recognized brand that was acquired by HelloFresh in November 2020. Mike was recently named an Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2021 Midwest Award finalist. With an impressive history of investing in and advising food and beverage brands prior to his time at Factor, Mike’s operations expertise is sure to bring 1000% to the Listen team.