The first Toy & Game Inventors Workshop took place in September, as budding toy creators grasped the opportunity to pitch their ideas to some of the biggest companies in the industry. Billy Langsworthy reviews the event and explains how it marks the beginning for a new inventor-shaped string to ToyNews’ bow.

Toy & Game Inventors Workshop 2014 review

Earlier this year, we began a series of features looking at how the UK toy industry worked with inventors, and how creators can get their ideas onto shelves.

Soon, we were sharing stories, of both success and frustration, from inventors from around the UK, and further abroad.

However, most claimed that getting direct contact with toy companies proved impossible. They sent emails they felt were sitting in an underused, overcrowded inbox, and they didn’t have the contacts they needed to get noticed.

The first Toy & Game Inventors Workshop was set up to help: both inventors to get their products on the right path and toy companies looking for a hidden gem.

The event – held in association with Britain’s Next Hot Toy – took place at Rich Mix in London and saw almost 100 inventors pack into the venue.

They were treated to a full conference programme in the morning, opened by Dr Jim Wyatt, creative director of Wow! Labs.

Following the opening address, Phil Sage, director of global product acquisition and inventor relations at Hasbro, took delegates ‘From Sketch to Shelf’, talking them through the process that the firm goes through when working with inventors; Wendy Philips from The Toy Safety Experts outlined the key points from the new safety legislation, while Lesley Singleton, director of Playtime PR offered them tips on how to sell their big idea.

Steve Reece from Kids Brand Insight then chaired What Retail & Consumers Are Looking For, introducing Wendy Munt, former Argos buyer and director of Be Inspired; Dr Amanda Gummer from Fundamentally Children; Cara Davies from; and Becky Ottery from indie store Eclectic Games.

Toyologist Peter Jenkinson lead the board game panel, speaking to Richard McLuckie from Pants on Fire Games, Tristan Hyatt-Williams and Dean Tempest from Big Potato, Ben Hogg from Esdevium Games and board game expert Daniela Pietrosanu on why the board game category is booming.

Finally, there was the inventor panel session, chaired by Dougal Grimes, director of inventor relations at Hasbro.

The lively debate included Sir Torquil Norman, Bluebird Toys founder and creator of The Big Yellow Teapot; Rena Nathanson, founder of Bananagrams; Richard Heayes, founder of Heayes Design; and Dr Jim Wyatt from Wow! Labs, all sharing fascinating tales about how they made it in the toy industry.

In the afternoon, inventors were given the chance to pitch to event partners Asobi, Cartamundi, Hasbro, Flair, John Adams, Sambro, Vivid, Casdon, Trends UK, HTI, Wow! Stuff and Guandong Alpha Animation while Fundamentally Children, Big On Toy Innovation and Be Inspired were also on hand to offer delegates advice.

And it worked.

At the time of writing we know of five toys and games currently being seriously considered by toy firms, with one already confirmed to be heading to retail in the near future directly as a result of the Workshop.

This whole event came about as a means to bring the UK toy and game inventor community together. They wanted a forum to network, learn and pitch their ideas.

Now they have one, and we have even more plans via our imminent Toy & Game Inventors Bulletin to offer more news, features and events to this passionate, thriving, and frankly, vital community.

As Kids Brand Insight’s Steve Reece said: “The toy industry in the UK has needed something like this for years.”

What some of our speakers and sponsors thought:

Steve Reece, Kids Brand Insight
“Toy and game inventors are the lifeblood of the toy industry. The Toy & Game Inventors Workshop gave unparalleled access to the UK toy industry for inventors. The event was a great success in terms of participation and quality of content. Can’t wait for the next one.”

Richard Heayes, Heayes Design
“It was a great turnout from the industry plus some good creative discussions with up and coming and established inventors. A dedicated event that increases the profile of the inventor scene in the UK has to be a good thing.”

Rena Nathanson, Top Banana at Bananagrams
“It was a fantastic day and a great opportunity to put faces to names. I learned an awful lot from veterans in the industry and was inspired talking to the new inventors. It’s really nice to see lots of good energy and ideas that promise to reinvigorate the toy and game sector.”

Wendy Munt, Be Inspired
“What an excellent, high energy day the Inventors Workshop was. It was fantastic to see so many interesting ideas presented and be able to give advice to over 20 inventors on their product development and possible routes to market. All of the feedback I’ve had from the inventors involved has been highly positive and several are now having further discussions regarding potential distribution.”

Ben Hogg, Esdevium Games
“We enjoyed the discussions on games and it was interesting to hear different views from other companies and individuals within the toy trade.”

Peter Jenkinson, Toyology
“It was a cracking day with just the right blend of people to make it interesting, informative and thoroughly enjoyable. All round inspiring for anyone in the toy industry.”

Lesley Singleton, Playtime PR
“It was a real honour to be part of the first ever Toy & Game Inventors Workshop. The enthusiasm from the inventors was matched by that of the brands and it really felt as though the playing field was leveled for all parties. It was the perfect platform for inventors to gain unprecedented access to industry experts and big brands alike. I suspect it’s an event which will only grow in popularity and will become an important annual fixture on the industry calendar.”

Dean Tempest, Big Potato
“It was really good. The talks could have gone on and on because all the speakers were that good. We met a lot of interesting people too who we may not have met otherwise.”

Sir Torquil Norman, Bluebird Toys founder
“It was a very useful day for toy inventors. I hope it is the first of many.”

Lindsay Hardy, Trends UK
“It’s been really interesting. The speed dating has been absolutely hilarious. What’s so surprising is that it’s not been done before. You think of all the scrambling that goes on at toy fairs when it’s not convenient to hear pitches. It’s been really good and you guys have been amazing at coordinating the whole thing.”

Thierry Bourret, Asobi
“The morning was interesting, both for the speakers and the audience questions, especially the one about rejection! We saw some really good stuff and there is at least one thing for sure that we are going to follow up on. As initiative, it’s been absolutely fantastic.”

Dougal Grimes, Hasbro
“It’s been amazing. You guys have done an amazing job. The talks were helpful and all the panel discussions were good. It’s always really important for new toy and game inventors to understand some of the challenges that others are going through. The standard of the inventors coming here has been really high. The best thing is to support the inventor community. We want them to keep inventing, so if it’s not right for us, we try to guide them somewhere else because if they get successful they’ll invent more, and we want to keep that community alive. I’d love to see it become an annual event and it’s at a great time of year as well. It can keep growing. It’s great that this event shows us up on stage as normal, approachable people. It breaks down that little barrier.”

Nikki Samuel, Sambro
“We were excited about being involved in this first Toy Inventors Workshop and following its success we are sure it will be the first of many. What struck us about the event was the sheer breadth of young talent in the industry. The innovative product developers are exactly the kind of people Sambro are looking to work with going forward and we will keep ToyNews up to date as we progress our discussions with them. Thanks for a brilliant day.”

Andrew McKay, Flair
“It was a good event for catching up with old colleagues and meeting new inventors. I’m looking forward to the next event hopefully next year.”

What some of our delegates thought of the day:

Graeme Fraser-Bell, Accentuate Games
“For a conference the first of its kind in the UK, I think it’s gone extremely well. The panel discussions were very informative, I learnt a great deal, and also the networking with different people who are in the same boat has been great. To co-ordinate over 60 people going around many booths in 15 minute slots is excellent. It shows to me that somebody knows what they’re doing, and we’ll be back next year.”

Andrew Harman, Yay Games
“Meeting people in the business who have been giving me advice has been great. I really enjoyed the conference. Hearing about other gamer’s and designer’s experiences is really rewarding. There’s no better place to learn than from people that have gone out there and done it. Here we’ve got newbies like myself, up and comers and people with a massive amount of history in the space like Sir Torquil Norman.”

Emma Williams, Harry & Jacks
“It’s brilliant. For people like us who are starting from the very beginning of the process and are trying to build something exciting, to have this forum has been great. The conference was really interesting, I’ve learnt a lot. Being exposed to people who you wouldn’t normally get a chance to speak to has been very interesting. The pitching sessions were challenging, honest and open, and it was great to hear all the feedback."

Andy Hopwood, Hopwood Games
“It was brilliant. The morning was really informative and there have been loads of delegates, which is really impressive for a first event. I came here for the board game side, but the toy aspects have also been really interesting and there’s been a lot of crossover. I even enjoyed the safety talk. If it happens again, I’ll come along and I’d recommend it to anybody in the toy and games industry, whether you’re established or not.”

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