Kurt Smolek and his daughter, Hannah, are startup toy designers who invented “Connectimals,” a line of plush toys that can be mixed and matched to create a variety of different, fun, and zany creatures.

Kurt, his wife Katie, Hannah and her young brother, Bret, live in Wisconsin where Kurt spent seven years employed as a Mechanical Assembly Technician at an R&D facility where his mind was constantly on designing and building prototypes.

Then, in 2015, his mind turned to the task of designing playthings instead, and this decision leads to amazing experiences and a newly launched Kickstarter campaign.

Background

In 2014, Kurt's daughter Hannah was diagnosed with Type 1, childhood diabetes and merely two weeks later Kurt was laid off from his job.

Advertisements
Advertisements

During this difficult period, Hannah accidentally broke the leg off one of her stuffed toys. She and Kurt subsequently brainstormed about what it would be like to create a plush toy that had interchangeable parts.

After fleshing out some ideas and taking a trip to the hobby store, they created a line of stuffed toys that have detachable heads, paws, ears and tails all detachable. Although they were pleased with the concept, they did not present it to any companies.

About six months after creating initial prototypes, Kurt found another steady job and then decided to take the “Connectimals” invention a step further.

After patenting the idea on the advice of a lawyer, Kurt and Hannah posted a video of their toy on YouTube which led to them receiving a message from MysticArt Pictures in California asking them if they wanted to partake in a new competition television show called “#The Toy Box” which was being developed by ABC.

Advertisements

In preparation for the show, Kurt and Hannah designed more plush models and added some cute accessories. They then flew to New York to appear on the program--and possibly win a contract with Mattel. Although they did not win the overall contest, they received some wonderful reactions and feedback and just launched a Kickstarter campaign to further fund their design.

Kurt recently spoke about his experiences with the Connectimals, appearance on “The Toy Box” and more via an exclusive #Interview.

Interview

Blasting News (BN): When did you first get interested in creating toys and how did the Connectimals concept come to mind?

Kurt Smolek (KS): I am still a kid at heart. I have always loved creating things. At age 13 or 14 I made an automatic fish catcher with a fishing reel, rubber band, mouse trap all attached to a milk crate!

BN: How exactly do the Connectimals work and what ages do think would be most interested in them?

KS: Magnets allow interchangeability with bodies, heads, paws, tails, and ears along with accessories.

Advertisements

They can be for just about any age and any gender any even for animal lovers and adults for collecting. I think it would be fun to make limited edition ones or rare ones to make them even more collectible.

BN: About how long have you been working on this project and what have been the biggest challenges so far?

KS: It has been almost two years since the first Connectimal was designed and made. People have gotten a little scared of magnets because of the high-powered magnets in recent years. Some were sold as toys a few were swallowed by kids and caused issues. I want to make sure ours are safe and are enclosed within the Connectimals, and all the parts are big enough so not to be a choking hazard.

BN: You design these toys with your going daughter so do you two enjoy working together?

KS: It is great mixing an adults education and experience with a child’s imagination and wonder. It has been fun!

BN: You recently appeared a TV series called "The Toy Box" so what was it like to be part of the show?

KS: Being on the show was a great experience. It was a mix of excitement and nerves at all times. We didn’t know who the host or mentor judges were until just moments before we met them. We watch “Modern Family” so as soon as they said Cam my daughter and I both knew who he was and was excited to meet him. It was a fourteen-hour day of filming but was exciting and fun the whole time. We though we had a great chance of winning.

BN: Although you didn't win the overall contest, what sorts of feedback and contacts did it provide you?

KS: We got some great feedback on our website and Facebook page. I even looked at the comments on “The Toy Box” Facebook page. We had a lot of people say they thought we were going to win our episode and that they wanted our toy. This gave us the confidence to keep trying and moving ahead to make Connectimals happen. We haven’t been contacted by anyone as of yet to help us, so we are turning to Kickstarter to try to raise the money to get the first five Connectimals made. Who knows what may happen once we get further along!

BN: What has a public response to the Connectimals been like and are any companies currently interested in picking them up?

KS: No companies yet, but we have a great response.The public response and the mentor-judges, as well as the kid judges on the show, have given us the confidence to keep moving forward. We even received a hand-written letter from Wisconsin State Representative Joan Ballweg. She congratulated us and wished us luck in the future.

BN: Have you designed any other toys or games or do you have other ideas in mind?

KS: I have a few other ideas, but I am focusing on taking the Connectimals to the next level right now. If they are successful then hopefully we can afford to move ahead with other ideas.

BN: What future events and projects are coming up and what else would you like to mention?

KS: Once we finalize the prototype the manufacturer makes for us and can afford to order a quantity of them I hope to do a few toys shows and let people get an up close and hands-on feel of the Connectimals. We have the momentum right now from being on “The Toy Box” so we have to take advantage of that opportunity. #Toys & Games