Young Inventor Challenge Winners Experience New York Toy Fair

What started out as a 4th-grade class project has become an ongoing part of eleven year olds Kate Forden and Mikayla Hartunian’s lives. The 2014 Young Inventor Challenge Junior Winners say that “innovation, creativity, and reinvention are now hard-wired into our brains”. 2014 was their second time being a top prizewinner at ChiTAG and they plan to keep inventing and returning to the annual fair with games that encourage family and friend play time.  The girls couldn’t stop smiling when they won in November, especially when they found out their prize package included a trip to New York Toy Fair!


Tell us a bit about your game inventions. 

We create games that are for all age groups and skill levels so that no one player has an advantage over another. Two years ago, we entered the fair with a game called Candy Crave and were honored to win the People's Choice Award in the Junior Division. It was so cool.  After a year, we decided to go back with an entirely new game called KaBounce. 

The game uses a combination of skill and chance, and during the testing phase we determined that a six-year-old has just as much chance of winning as a thirty-year-old. Each player has a uniquely colored Ping-Pong ball, and the object is for each player to bounce his/her ball into one of the compartments on a slanted, wavy, three-dimensional board. The first player to get four of the same color balls in a row - up, down or diagonally - wins.  It sounds easy, but any player can KaBounce their opponent out of a slot by getting one of his/her balls in the same compartment and knocking out the other ball. We were surprised at how many eighteen to twenty-five-year-olds loved the game!  

How was your trip to New York?

2014 Junior Category Winners Mikayla and Kate with their game, KaBounce

2014 Junior Category Winners Mikayla and Kate with their game, KaBounce

New York was amazing. It was nonstop excitement from beginning to end: we met so many nice people, ate great food, and learned a lot. At the Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards gala, we got to dress in fancy clothes, enjoy some amazing food (the cotton candy was fabulous), and announce the winner of the industry’s coveted "Innovative Toy of the Year" award. The following day the Toy Industry Association gave us a private tour of the toy fair, which is only open to the toy industry, not the general public. As a matter of fact, no kids are allowed. How silly is that? 

We were also given a tour of Quirky, an invention company. How neat to see examples of simple ideas that developed into products that got sold. That tour ended with a fabulous lunch treat at a nearby restaurant, courtesy of Quirky. We had such fun - almost as much as when we play KaBounce!


Julia Shoppach presents her game to Dougall Grimes (Hasbro) and Benjamin Dermer (Spin Master) in Chicago.

Julia Shoppach presents her game to Dougall Grimes (Hasbro) and Benjamin Dermer (Spin Master) in Chicago.

Like Kate and Mikayla, 2014 Senior Category Young Inventor Challenge winners Cara Wendt and Julia Shoppach’s winning game Quick Start started out as a school project. After months of multiple design briefs, continual collaboration, and focus groups, Cara and Julia entered their first version of the game in the Young Inventor Challenge at ChiTAG in November of 2013. Even though the girls did not win the first year, they did make a lot of connections with toy companies and received some great ideas from industry experts regarding minor design modifications. They applied those suggestions to their toy and returned to ChiTAG in 2014, this time winning first place. They say the experience has opened new doors for them, built confidence, and encouraged them to keep pursuing the good ideas that they have. They describe their trip to New York as “an amazing experience”, and have since received a patent pending for Quick Start. Next, they are hoping to connect with the toy industry regarding moving from prototype to a manufactured toy.  

If these stories (and 2-time Young Inventor Challenge winner Nick Metzler) are any indication, it seems safe to say that practice really does make perfect. Our advice to young inventors out there: if at first you don’t succeed try, try again.