When Alice Brooks, co-founder of US toy brand, Roominate asked for a Barbie as a child, her father handed her a saw, instead.
With that, she made her own doll out of wood and nails, and from that moment her passion for creating toys was born.
However, it wasn’t until Brooks took up a master’s course in engineering at Stanford in the US that she met kindred spirit, Bettina Chen, and struck upon the idea of a range of toys designed to encourage girls to take up the sciences.
“I realised that we were both inspired to pursue engineering from our childhood toys,” Brooks, told ToyNews.
“We also saw that there was a need for something like Roominate in the toy industry, since nothing like this has ever existed.”
The pair decided to embark on the journey to create Roominate, with the mission to inspire the next generation of innovators and empower girls to become interested in the STEM subjects.
Billed as ‘The Building Toy for Girls’ the range consists of various themed settings to construct, which can then be brought to life by wiring up motor circuits to power windmills, carousels or elevators.
At 26 years old, Brooks recently appeared in Forbes’ 30 under 30 where she was praised for her innovation in the sector. She has also managed to win investment support from Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner to the tune of $500,000.
“We have been fortunate to receive encouraging reaction from the toy industry,” Brooks continued. “Roominate is unique and filled a niche void in the industry.
“Featuring in Forbes’ 30 under 30 really solidifies how much hard work Bettina and I have put in to making Roominate unique, innovative and something that will inspire children to follow their dreams.”
But for all her successes, Brooks has seen her fair share of challenges, describing the Roominate product development stage as the most testing.
“For months, we spent every day watching kids play with their favourite toys, researching studies on spatial skills, and testing out prototypes,” said Brooks.
“We ended up throwing out a lot of not so great ideas, but learned from every failure. After a few months, we puled together everything we had learned and observed and found our ‘a-ha’ moment when we tested the Roominate concept with our first group of kids.”
Today, the firm has built a fan following of ‘Roominators’, who help Brooks and her team keep abreast with the needs of the toy’s core audience.
“We listen and respond to what they like or what they would want to see different in the Roominate line, and we take that in to consideration when developing new product initiatives,” Brooks explained.
And through this partnership with her core audience, Brooks hopes to encourage a new generation of inventors in their own endeavours.
“We support anyone who has an innovative vision and looking to bring a positive or empowering message to the toy community,” she said.
“My best advice for those looking to break the toy industry it to test your ideas as early and frequently as possible with your future customers until you have created an ‘a-ha’ moment for them.”
Currently available in over 4,000 retailer location across the US and Canada and with a new distribution deal signed for Australia, international expansion of the Roominate brand is firmly in Brooks’ sights.
“We are excited to expand our range this year with new kits that feature more building pieces, vehicles and accessories. Expanding in to the UK and as many other international markets as we can is something that’s extremely important to us,” Brooks concluded.