Today Keith Millman and Westley Ciaramella have parlayed their love for inventing toys and games into a thriving business, Brooklyn-based Catapult Concepts, which produces more than 100 concepts a year for manufacturers including Mattel and Hasbro.
It started eight years ago, when the two met at their first day attending the toy-design program at Manhattanâ€™s Fashion Institute of Technology.
After graduating, they decided to get as much on-the-job experience as they could. Millman took a job at a toy-inventing house in Chicago, while Ciaramella ended up at a toy manufacturer in Texas.
Three years later, they reconvened on the Jersey Shore, and Catapult Concepts, a toy- and game-invention studio, was born. The headquarters was a house they shared in Long Branch, with a workspace in the basement, where they set about analyzing the marketplace, brainstorming ideas and building prototypes.
â€œWeâ€™d constantly present our ideas to each other and ask ourselves, â€˜How does this game work? What makes it different from anything out there?â€™ â€ says Millman.
It was slow going at first, says Millman. But eventually they sold their first toy to Mattel – Piranha Panic, a plastic action game where fish race to escape a hungry piranha.
While some of the concepts they sold went nowhere, others have hit the mark, most notably Piranha Panic, which â€œshould break a million pieces sold by Christmas,â€ says Ciaramella. And today, Catapult Concepts is on a roll, bringing in close to million dollars a year.
The two are riding high on their success at turning a childhood preoccupation into a viable career.
â€œThe best feeling,â€ says Millman, â€œis when you go to a store and you see a kid pick up your game and ask his mom to buy it.â€
Photo by Rich Press.