ChiTAG founder Mary Couzin on the fight to ensure recognition for toy inventors

Last week, the Chicago Toy and Game Group's week-long celebration of inventors, play and innovation took place, spanning fashion shows, award ceremonies, inventor conferences and a consumer-facing fair. Billy Langsworthy talks to ChiTAG founder Mary Couzin about the origins of the events and why the industry should continue to fly the flag for inventors.
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What was your background pre-ChiTAG and how did you come to setting up the show?

I was managing retail estate offices but in my spare time I was designing board games, so I started as an inventor. I then started helping other inventors and then I went to Essen Game Fair. We had no public show like that here in the States before and so I started a toy and game show. We started building it and as it went along we added other events. I started nine years ago with the toy and game inventor conference because that’s my background.

I’d always felt that inventors weren’t recognised like their creative counterparts in other industries so we started the TAGIE Awards eight years ago.

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We also started the Young Inventor Challenge nine years ago. I think it’s important to inspire kids and get them interested in creativity and our industry because as they get older, they could become toy and game inventors. That actually happened. A kid came to the Challenge three or four years ago and now he’s working at Spin Master as a game designer. The game he won the Challenge with ended up at retail on shelves all around the world.

Then we thought we needed something more edgy to bring in young people and so we started the PlayCHIC Fashion Show. We evolve, add events and try to excite people.

Why did it take so long for the industry to start shouting about the creativity of their inventors?

I have no idea and I still don’t understand. It’s still very difficult to promote inventors. Now we’ve got bloggers working on it but I don’t know why it’s difficult because the public wants to talk to them. It’s interesting. Whenever we host inventor nights, people come out to meet them. We had a social media thing about having dinner with the inventor of Jenga and it went crazy.

How has this year’s ChiTAG been compared to previous years?

Numbers are up on every single event and numbers on the Young Inventors Challenge have doubled so we had over 200 kids. It’s crazy. We’ve had kids fly in from Mexico, California, Colorado and the East Coast. It’s amazing.

Spin Master has been an unbelievable sponsor. Those guys really care about the kids and they’ve gone all out for the Challenge. It’s been great.

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Is the industry in a good place when it comes to creativity?

I think it’s getting more innovative. If they used inventors more as a sales tool, the industry would benefit even more. Anytime you put a face to a product, it sells. There is an appetite to hear their stories.

For anyone in the UK that hasn’t been to ChiTAG before, why should they make the trip next year?

We have companies and inventors from around 25 countries come and participate in our events so there’s a wide group of people available to look at your products, and also to network with.

There are two tracks to the conference and there were over 200 people that are a part of that, and you also get to be a part of the TAGIE Awards, which is a worldwide celebration of inventors. It’s all about the community.

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