Like many of you, I grew up a Toys 'R' Us kid. Every time I saw that orange giraffe I would cheer with glee. That's why when I heard that Toys 'R' Us is closing, my inner child hoped they were just "toying" with us. Sadly, Toys R' Us will be closing, along with it one of the biggest "incubators" for new toys and toy startups.
The Toys 'R' Us brand is so strong that even though I've only taken my young daughter once to the store, she knows exactly what it is and can recognize the logo, despite not yet being able to read. Of course, the fact that she's only gone once to Toys 'R' Us may be part of the problem--people just aren't going to brick and mortar toy stores anymore. And certainly, the toy industry has changed tremendously in the past decade, and classic toy companies like Mattel and LEGO know they have to be innovative to stay relevant.
In honor of losing a toy store giant, here are 4 innovative toy startups poised to take up that orange giraffe-sized hole in our heart.
Sometimes innovation takes the form of new-fangled technology, but other times innovation involves taking what you know works and simply just giving it to your audience. GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling found success by making the toy that she always wanted as a little girl, even though others kept telling her it wouldn't sell. Well, guess what? She ignored them and the toys are award-winning hits.
GoldieBlox features STEM-inspired (science, technology, engineering, and math) kits that feature a character, like Ruby Rails, a cool contraption that you build yourself, and a book that brings the toy to life. So far my construction-minded daughter has created a spinning machine and she is next eyeing the zip line, made from washers, string, and blocks.
Sure, I may try to get my kids to play with classic blocks and shapes, but for better or worse they gravitate toward those dastardly digital screens. While screen time isn't always all bad, studies do suggest that time physically manipulating objects helps children develop important motor skills. Enter Tiggly, a toy that connects real toys to the shapes and images on the screen. Co-founders Dr. Azadeh Jamalian, Phyl Georgiou, and Bart Clareman innovate the future of toys by finding creative ways to help kids connect real-world toys with a virtual app--an approach based on educational research. As a result, Tiggly has been used in over 4,000 schools and engages even my own app-interested zombies (um, I mean, kids).
Tiggly and GoldieBlox target the preschool and early childhood market, but there's plenty of toy innovation happening for older kids (and grownups, too). Like Tiggly, Osmo combines tangibles with a digital application and helps you do everything from code your own games, make music, or draw a digital masterpiece. The founders, Pramod Sharma and Jerome Scholler wanted to find a clever way to teach an important skill--coding--while also appealing to the digital crowd. They found that letting their customers be creative was the key to making a successful product.
Do you (or your child) want to build your own personal Star Wars-inspired droid? You can with littleBits, a company that sells a kit to make your own R2-D2, complete with all the bells, whistles and beeps. This clever company just won Toy of the Year for 2018 by tapping into the Do-It-Yourself trend. Their hands-on, user-friendly electronic block kits feature fun missions and real-world applications, where you can create your own instruments, games, and gadgets, or even your own smart home devices.