ASTRA Education: Panel Discussion Explores Being a Woman in Business

PHILADELPHIA, PA – On Tuesday, June 27, ASTRA Marketplace & Academy attendees were invited to a discussion focused on women-focused businesses in the toy industry. Moderated by Deb de Sherbinin, Women in Toys Empowerment Initiatives co-chair and the principal of Perk Consulting, the panel was comprised of three women (two manufacturers and one retailer) who shared their stories about the challenges they had faced starting and growing their businesses. “I shared some facts about women-owned companies which included info from a Fortune magazine article published in March 2016 where women-led companies made up only 4.94% of all venture capital (VC) deals in 2016 and women-led companies received 2.19% of VC funding in dollars,” said de Sherbinin. “Many female entrepreneurs bootstrap their businesses, since finding sources to fund their growth presents a major challenge.”

ASTRA Women PanelFrom Left to right: ASTRA’s Ahren Hoffman, Laurie Peterson, Marcia Haut, Deb de Sherbinin and Hilary Key discussed women in the toy business during ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy.

The discussion centered on the importance of obtaining access to funding and getting help from an advisor or mentor to help navigate the challenges of growing a business. “Women are more adept than men in understanding the marketplace, especially in the toy area, and they come up with great product concepts to address a need,” noted de Sherbinin. “One key take-away for addressing the finance issue it that women starting a business should develop relationships with a local bank or credit union.”

Panelist Marcia Haut started her company, Smart Noggin, after working with children as a special education teacher and therapist for 30 years. As a special-needs teacher of 3-year-olds with delayed visual tracking skills, Haut used a light-up golf ball to address her students’ learning challenges. In 2012, she created the Noggin Stick, a developmental light-up rattle. Her initial plan was to sell it to pediatricians. She showed it to a few toy stores and before she knew it she was running a toy business with a product that was flying off the shelves. Haut sold her house to get funds to buy inventory and grow her company.

With the assistance of a Kickstarter campaign and angel funding, panelist Laurie Peterson launched her company Build and Imagine in 2014 at Toy Fair. Her building system taps into a familiar girl play pattern and incorporates STEM learning and has received more than 30 awards for her innovative building set designed for girls.

Another panelist was Hilary Key, owner of The Toy Chest with two retail stores in Indiana. While pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience in 2013, and after spending time with a little girl in West Africa, she decided to abandon her studies. During the panel, Key shared strategies of understanding and curating the product mix for different target markets for her two stores: a classic, small town toy store and a mall-based toy store.

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