When engineer Mike Wong and three students in the Park City Center for Advanced Professional Studies (PC CAPS) program finished their semester project, they had no way to know that it would morph into a lasting business.
Two years later, though, the company born from the product they created in class is trying to become a player in the fierce national toy market. The product is called IKOS, a 3-D building toy featuring triangle pieces that can be put together to make a sphere — or thousands of other shapes — and those involved with the company believe it can be the Legos for the next generation.
The toy, which Wong touts as having a strong educational component, is currently being sold in places such as science museums and gift shops. But he and Chris Rebsamen, who is marketing the product through his company, Jupiter Sales and Marketing, are setting their sights higher.
They see a national opportunity. They envision a time in the near future when shoppers at national chain stores like Target and Bed Bath & Beyond can find IKOS in the toy aisle. IKOS has won a handful of awards over the last year, and they said momentum is building.
“We’ve been on the market for a year and a half, but I still consider it new,” Wong said. “I don’t know if it’s revolutionary, but it’s going to change the way kids and adults think and create. It will get them thinking outside the box.”
But becoming a national name is easier said than done. The toy industry, Wong said, is notoriously difficult to break into.
It’s been important to get feedback from people like Rebsamen who have experience in the sales and distribution world, and Wong credits the support of the Park City community with helping get the company off the ground. As pleased as Wong is with the company so far, however, he is even more optimistic about its future. But the challenges are clear. Getting the product to this point, where it’s starting to develop a name for itself, has been difficult. The next step will be even harder.
Wong and Rebsamen attended the ASTRA Marketplace specialty toy trade show in Denver earlier this month and picked up more than 15 new customers. They also got feedback that encouraged them to keep pushing hard.
“In the toy world, it’s just about getting exposure,” Wong said. “I think we’ve been lucky with the connections we’ve made and who we’ve talked to, but it’s tough. You’ve got to find the right partnership, the right mentors, and try to make it work.”
Rebsamen said the fact IKOS products are made in an environmentally conscious way — and in the U.S. — is an important message that can help the company break through. The company is also pledging to donate seven cents from every dollar of profit to education. That message will be crucial, too, because IKOS’ largest asset, they believe, is that it can be used to stimulate the mind.
“There are so many kids playing video games these days, and they’re not really using their brain,” Rebsamen said. “What they follow is the next game coming out. But this is a creative game that keeps your mind going.”