Spielwarenmesse: Startups: new ideas for the future of the industry

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Startups: new ideas for the future of the industry

from Peter Thomas

Children are naturally curious and absolutely love trying new things. It’s no surprise, then, that startups and other young companies with smart product ideas do so well with this dynamic target group. This especially holds for electronic toys, the market segment focused on programming, robotics and digital controllers.


Ultimately, these are technological fields in which startups that we know from the area of digital communication and media are very successful. Dorothee Bär, Minister of the State of Bavaria for Digitalisation, had this to say in the German Startup Monitor 2018 regarding the German market: “The rapid rise in the number of startups shows that the startup and entrepreneur scene is becoming increasingly important in the context of digitalisation.”

However, the successful digital startup phenomenon is a global one. This is also clear from the international Spielwarenmesse: every visit to the Tech2Play activity area in Hall 4A of the Nuremberg Exhibition Centre provides an insight into the tremendous diversity and strong innovative capabilities of startups from all over the world producing electronic toys.

girl plays with the educational game system Plugo
Plugo educational game system by Play Shifu.

Virtual reality

Indian startup PlayShifu, for example, blends real and virtual play worlds to create an augmented reality experience with its products. It has introduced the Plugo educational game system as a tablet and smartphone platform. After a successful financing round this summer, PlayShifu is focusing on further expanding play-based educational STEM worlds. Speaking in July 2019, CEO Vivek Goyal described the company’s plans for the near future as “our journey to make early learning fun and accessible to children around the world.”

Lingufino with a book
Lingufino the digital language doll by Lingufino von Linguwerk GmbH.

Silicon Valley of India and Silicon Saxony

Some 7,000 kilometres separate Bangalore, where PlayShifu is based in the Silicon Valley of India, and Dresden, the capital of the German state of Saxony. The Silicon Saxony innovation network stretching out from the city, often referred to as Florence on the Elbe, encompasses companies such as Linguwerk GmbH, founded in 2011 with a focus on digital language technology. Its expertise is on show in Lingufino, a product that innovatively combines educational play and language learning. Unlike cloud-based language assistants, Lingufino works without Internet access. This ensures a high level of data protection and complete flexibility for play-based use aimed at, for example, helping preschoolers to overcome speech impairments.

Tiger Media from Hamburg is also focusing on language with its new tiger box, a streaming box for audio books and dramas and music. Content is unlocked by inserting cards into the box. The box complements Tiger Media’s digital content for smart devices.

Root Robot and M.A.X.

Root Robotics from the US is a startup spun out of Harvard University. Its interactive Root Robot provides a playful introduction to the worlds of programming and robotics and can also be used in the classroom. The system has won over the experts: in summer 2019, Root Robotics was acquired by iRobot, the maker of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner and the leading global consumer robot company.

Root Robot

Spin Master, meanwhile, has shown how a young company can take a classic brand and breathe fresh life into it with digital ideas. The Canadian toy manufacturer founded 25 years ago acquired the legendary Meccano brand and its technical construction toys in 2013. This play system created in 1901 by English inventor Frank Hornby is now being rebooted for the future through, for example, M.A.X. – an interactive robot with voice and app control, sensors and an integrated gaming platform.

Towards a playful future

Play-based exploration has a big future thanks to digital products. This is also clear from Robotical’s Marty the Robot. The startup based in Edinburgh, Scotland, financed its educational toy from 2016 to 2017 through crowdfunding and is constantly adding to the system.

London-based startup Tech Will Safe Us, founded in 2012, is also a fan of crowdfunding: the manufacturer of digital toys like the micro:bit computer and exciting new science kits has just launched a new Kickstarter project.

And how does the spirit of these startups transfer to the girls and boys around the world who discover their products? Ideally, the young customers go on to become inventive and visionary entrepreneurs themselves. After all, innovative STEAM play systems not only familiarise children with the basics of robotics, programming and digital technology but also awaken their interest in these subjects in a way that may shape their future lives.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spielwarenmesse eG.

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Author of this article:

Peter Thomas, Journalist

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