Michael Snively spent summers in high school running a carousel on the riverfront in Salem, Oregon, bringing joy to thousands of children.
Now, the 20-year-old junior is committed to making kids happy. “I design toys because it’s a great mix of art and science,” says Snively, who recently designed a line of toys that won $10,000 worth of development and marketing in a nationwide contest.
Snively, who recently worked at Hasbro, one of the largest toy makers in the world, built hundreds of Star Wars action figures last summer, which are now in toy stores across the country. Hasbro, which makes Monopoly, Mr. Potato Head, My Little Pony, and GI Joe, coined the phrase action figure in order to market the toy to boys, who wouldn’t want to play with dolls.
When he first arrived at MIT, Snively, who is majoring in mechanical engineering, took a class in toy product design. A few days later, the class took a trip to Hasbro’s World Headquarters in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Hasbro experts, including artists, designers, engineers, and marketers, spoke to the class. Snively says: “After 15 minutes, I knew I wanted to work there.”
He submitted a resume. He included a portfolio with photos of a tree house that he had built with his Dad, which sits between four trees in their backyard, and which is equipped with insulation, windows, and electricity. He soon landed a job at Hasbro.
“Designing toys is a perfect job for me,” he says. “I’m glad there’s a market for it. In a recession, many things dip, but not toys. Having fun and playing is important. Parents cut back on things they do, but they don’t cut back on toys.”
Loving his job at Hasbro and coursing with excitement, Snively noticed online a toy fair in New York City. He rounded up a classmate and made the trip to Manhattan. “There were two huge floors filled with toys. I got the chance to meet the toymakers and see how the industry works.”
When he returned to his class, he began designing his own line of toys. A team of five students worked on the project, refining Snively’s original idea for ElectroPlushies, snuggly stuffed toys that also teach kids about circuits.
Each ElectroPlushy comes with a tag that explains its particular circuit component. Some have batteries, some have LEDs. When you connect the toys with magnets, they light up or buzz, depending on their components.
He asked Hasbro to manufacture the toys, but they said no. Undaunted, he posted a video of the team’s presentation on YouTube, which was spotted by a New Jersey venture capitalist who was eager to produce the toys. Snively is now working to refine the toys to meet safety regulations for manufacturing.
He and his team also entered an invention contest and recently won $10,000 from Absolutely New, a consumer goods company that partners with inventors to launch innovative products.
Snively’s ElectroPlushies were on display at the Revolving Museum in Lowell, Ma., for four months and later were on display at the MIT Museum in Cambridge.
“Toy design has helped to stimulate my imagination,” he says. “And I feel like this work is doing something useful. I’m making people happy.”