How did your family first enter the toy industry? – It all started back in the early 90s. As a child, we spent our summers in Japan going to school and visiting relatives. One year, our uncle gave us a toy set called Pythagoras, which provided hours and hours of entertainment through open-ended play for my siblings and me. They were opaque magnetic building tiles invented by a math teacher in Japan. They consisted of 5 shapes and would always click together. My parents would watch us play with these for hours – cooperatively with no fighting – and a light bulb clicked in my parents’ head with the realization that they needed to bring Magna-Tiles to kids in the US to enjoy. My parents, Rudy and Noriko Valenta, decided to change careers and become entrepreneurs in the toy industry at that moment.
“The origins of The Pencil Grip, Inc., is attributed to the age-old premise that necessity is the mother of all invention. The roots of what we strive to do as a company (to make products that help people solve a common problem) can be traced to our origin. Dr. Lois Provda, the mother of Asher & Alex Provda, who are the current owners of the family company, was the creator of The Pencil Grip, and worked as an Educational Therapist who helped children with reading and writing difficulties. In her years of practice helping hundreds of children, she identified a need for a new and modern version of The Pencil Grip. Millions of units sold, and over 30 years later, it looks like she hit the nail right on the head.”
I first met Peter at an ASTRA Marketplace & Academy in 2015. Later that year, he traveled from his homebase in Switzerland to our November Inventor Pitch and Conference events. Since that time, we’ve met up at our events and others around the world. Peter clearly loves our industry and always has a big smile when you see him. I was excited to find out he was the second of three generations in our industry – and they were all within and passionate about the game industry. I’m sure you will enjoy reading their story as much as I did!
There are not many multi-generation inventor families, but if there were, the Ullman family would still be at the top of the list. I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know Don and Anne over the years as well as their boys, Al and Jack. Don has great stories (to start, ask him about owning an Italian Ice Shop and an Auto Detailing Shop) and has a playful soul… if you look closely, you’ll see the twinkle in his eyes that matches his mischievous grin. Enjoy reading about the Ullmans!
Our feature story highlighting the Zawitz family came to fruition in an unusual way. I had met Nick and knew a bit about the Tangle story of course, but it was Isabelle Hodges, their new team member who also consults on our POP website, who suggested we feature the Zawitz family. Richard shared his thoughts on Tangle’s life-affirming three generation story, and I know you will enjoy reading them as much as I did.
I have very much enjoyed getting to know Wai Or over the years, and while I have not had the pleasure of getting to know his parents, I’m sure the apple did not fall far from the tree! Wai is a friend to many all over the world, and thinks out-of-the-box to bring a product to life with a high attention to detail. He’s a well-known collector, and if you’ve been to his Hong Kong offices, you’ve seen his impressive collection of old games displayed on the walls. Just beautiful! This interview was conducted with Wai’s father, Michael Or.
Lynn Pressman was one of the first people I heard about when I entered the toy industry. She absolutely fascinated me. People talked about her business acumen, flair, hats, stunts like bringing an elephant to NY Toy Fair and much more. I met Jim for the first time at the UK Inventor Dinner and he seemed quiet, thoughtful and reserved. Although their styles were different, both were exceedingly successful in growing Pressman Toy during their time at the helm, as was Jack Pressman obviously. Theirs is a great story!
In this installment of the Toy Family Series Mary Couzin interviews Rena Nathanson, whose family created the game Bananagrams.
In this installment of the Toy Family Series, Mary Couzin interviews Dieter Strehl of playing card and board came manufacturer Piatnik.