Playing Tough


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 Manhattan’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.

“We’d constantly present our ideas to each other and ask ourselves, ‘How does this game work? What makes it different from anything out there?’ ” 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 “should break a million pieces sold by Christmas,” 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.

“The best feeling,” says Millman, “is when you go to a store and you see a kid pick up your game and ask his mom to buy it.”

Photo by Rich Press.

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