Disruption is coming to the toy industry

Some time ago I was speaking at StartUp school fire side chat event for startup CEOs here in the capital region of Finland and their opening question was: ”Why did you become an entrepreneur? What was your vision when you started your business?”

That is a brilliant question. The answer is quite simple.

I wanted to become an entrepreneur, together with the incredible team at 3DBear, so that in the future children of the world can design and make their own toys.

That’s it.

I have been buying toys for my own children and as gifts for other children for years. Whether you are a parent or not, we have all been children once. Think of the toys from your childhood that you recall to this day. The ones you recall are most likely not the rather expensive plastic toys that someone bought to you. For most people – I have noticed – that is not the answer. Those are rather easy to forget.

Did you ever make that little toy ship out of bark as a child? Or the wooden horse? Chances are that you still have it somewhere on the shelf of your parents’ home or the like.

Chances are that such a simple toy you made yourself is much dearer to you than the multitude of expensive plastic toys that you got for your birthday. Most of them were a temporary pleasure, soon forgotten at the back of the drawer. The toys you invented or participated in making with your own hands, those are the once you remember and cherish to this day. At least that is the typical answer.

What we would really want to achieve at 3DBear is that one day toys are designed and 3D-printed, not just consumed. In addition, all of us should be able to recycle used toys, too. 3DBear is working hard to that end. We are going to publish an open source plastic recycler soon. This recycler will transform used 3D-prints into new raw material (filament) for 3D printers.

Make no mistake about it, 3D printers, creative children and recycling of plastic will mean a huge disruption for toy industry.

What is holding back this vision? Well first and foremost the forces of the established order.

Think about it this way: we have multibillion companies out there making their money from selling toys (and other such objects) made out of plastic. And the plastic is made out of oil, even when renewal sources for plastic would be available. It turns out that these establishment toys are made out of the same type of plastic that can be 3D printed with the most popular 3D printers.

These establishment companies will not even consider those options as they are selling the toys at huge margin and dislike anything that would reduce their margins. In addition, the financial incentive of these gigantic companies is to sell huge volumes of these injection molded plastic objects. If you or your children were able to create your own toys, that would mean you would not need their designs. And they certainly do not want you to recycle your toys, as that would prevent them from selling you more.

And let me be clear, I do not mean 3D-printing something that violates someone else's IPR rights. I mean sparking the curiosity and creativity of our children, so that they can create themselves whatever they want, 3D-print it and when done playing with it, recycle the plastic.

As Sir Ken Robinson has noted, human life is inherently creative and curios. It is the common currency of being a human being. 

Today's toys are too polished, too pre-assembled, too clinical. As a result, our children are passive consumers. These toys do not spark curiosity or creativity. 

The established order cannot stand.

Our children should be able to live in a creative and sustainable society, not just at the receiving end of a passive, wasteful and expensive consumer model.

This would pave the way for a transformation: away from consumption of disposable objects towards enjoyment of experiences.

In essence this is the next step of digitalization: the digitalization of objects. That is, you can create (= model in 3D), print and enjoy your toys when you want.

The creative process itself is as important as the result. And when you are done with using the object, you should be able to recycle it.

This vision starts with us equipping our children with the 21st century skills for 3D thinking.

That is why I wanted to become an entrepreneur.

Author is CEO of 3DBear

 

 

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