Students can practice developing toys through the Student Investing Challenge. | Source: TinkerTini

by TRINA MCFARLAND, owner and general manager, TinkerTini

There’s no business like the toy business‭, ‬but the power of play has to be fueled by creativity‭. ‬With that in mind‭, ‬TOMY International and TinkerTini are embracing and inspiring the next generation of toy and game inventors that will carry the industry into the future‭.‬

For nearly 100‭ ‬years‭, ‬TOMY has been at the center of open innovation with products such as Active Snap‭, ‬Ahoy There‭, ‬and Greedy Granny‭, ‬along with many new‭, ‬exciting inventor concepts currently in development‭. ‬TOMY has also been a long-standing supporter of‭ ‬academia‭, ‬with a desire to give back and connect with up-and-coming talent as an organization in new ways‭. ‬

The TOMY and TinkerTini teams put their heads together to create the inaugural Student Inventing Challenge program that launched‭ ‬with Brunel University London‭. ‬The format kicked off with a focused brief and a series of recorded introductions and tutorials‭,‬‭ ‬plus a detailed challenge overview that students could watch and absorb on their own time‭. ‬

“It’s important that university students experience design challenges that are grounded in real business opportunities to help provide context for what they’re studying‭, ‬and how future employers or clients might expect them to apply their learnings and approach problem solving‭.‬”‭ ‬says Alpesh Patel‭, ‬vice president of global toy design at TOMY International‭. ‬“We saw an opportunity to expand upon the workflows‭, ‬tools‭, ‬and discipline we have as a team around how we work with inventors and bring that to students in a meaningful way‭.‬”

During the program‭, ‬the TOMY team and TinkerTini hosted an open Q&A session for participants to explain the fundamentals of submitting and licensing concepts in the toy industry‭. ‬Then‭, ‬students had several weeks to ideate and create against TOMY’s focused brief with concept presentations given directly to TOMY and TinkerTini in an open pitch format‭, ‬followed by students submitting their concepts through TinkerTini’s Tinkerly Innovation Platform to expedite a formal and thoughtful review process‭.‬

Challenge Committee | Source: TinkerTinki

By developing and submitting in this way‭, ‬new concepts were digested by the TOMY leadership team‭, ‬which then provided meaningful‭ ‬feedback to the students to help them improve‭. ‬The participating students in this challenge were able to experience the same workflow‭, ‬care‭, ‬and support that professional inventors who work with TOMY receive every day‭, ‬giving them a sneak peek into what it’s like to work as an inventor in the industry and to partner with TOMY‭. ‬

Exposure to the invention business model and the concept of design entrepreneurship will help build valuable skillsets for any future creative in the toy industry‭. ‬Hosting and facilitating focused inventing challenges for students provides them with practical‭, ‬real-world exposure and learning opportunities that encourage them to start thinking like entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs‭. ‬Understanding the working processes of independent inventors‭, ‬as well as that of the internal design teams that partner with inventors‭, ‬will assist them in practical ways throughout their careers ahead‭.‬

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“This really can be a win-win on many levels‭,‬”‭ ‬Patel says‭. ‬“We can’t wait to continue to explore and refine this new format to give students a learning experience that will serve them for years to come‭.‬”‭ ‬

Thirty Brunel students participated in TOMY’s first Student Inventing Challenge‭, ‬with three concepts ultimately making it to TOMY’s executive team for review and licensing consideration‭. ‬One concept was even prototyped by the TOMY design team‭. ‬Three students‭ ‬were given first‭, ‬second‭, ‬and third place prizes‭, ‬while all participants recieved Club Mocchi‭- ‬Mocchi‭- ‬plush toys‭. ‬Although none of the concepts progressed to a licensing agreement at this time‭, ‬it’s clear that with the right guidance‭, ‬focus‭, ‬and access to design leadership from the manufacturer’s perspective‭, ‬students are capable of delivering marketable concepts with merit‭. ‬

Following the success of the pilot program‭, ‬the next TOMY Brunel Student Inventing Challenge is being developed now and is scheduled to launch with Brunel University London this fall‭. ‬

This article was originally published in the June 2022 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!

About the author

Trina McFarland

Trina McFarland

Trina McFarland is the owner and general manager of TinkerTini, a full-service inventor relations agency founded in 2018. In 2020, she launched Tinkerly, a first-of-its-kind innovation platform for managing external innovation outreaches, connecting more than 500 global inventors with toy and game manufacturers and licensors. Her path to inventor relations began at Disney in 2004, where she created and launched the first licensor-driven Inventor Outreach program. She then went on to manage inventor relations for Jakks Pacific, Fisher-Price, and Mattel.