GEORGIA DAVIS/ STAFF WRITER
Ethan Schultz had a job offer lined up in Washington state following graduation. Instead of taking the job and traveling across the country, he decided to stay and start his own toy company in Athens.
“There will always be other places I can work,” Schultz said. “Now while I’m here in Athens and I have the resources that I do have, I feel like this is the time to pursue my dream which is to own my own toy company.”
Schultz is the CEO and founder of Opa Toys, an up-and-coming company that creates wooden, magnetic tiles that can be played with on a wall or similarly to a board game. The tiles come in many abstract shapes, such as animals, people and vehicles. His goal is to create “ecosystem of play where everything fits and can be fluid in nature” and is open ended, Schultz said.
The idea grew from Schultz’s thesis and took off in 2016, he said. He graduated from Ohio University in 2015 with a degree in sculpting.
“Going through the school of art, I never expected to be as involved with business as I am,” Schultz said. “Now I’m working with the school of business, the school of engineering, early childhood education and the school of fine arts. It’s been a real trip.”
Schultz has been working with the LIGHTS Program at the Innovation Center. Nathan Berger, the engineering and design expert for the program, has known Schultz since he was a student at OU. After Schultz graduated, Berger continued to help him develop Opa Toys by advancing his entrepreneurial education and constructing successful business models.
Berger said he is always “positively encouraging” Schultz, while also helping “drive him forward.”
“On a personal level, it is gratifying seeing a person develop a product,” Berger said.
Schultz took first place in Startup Weekend Athens for his idea in 2016, and said competition is a good way to inspire innovation. The goal of the weekend, he said, is to “solidify an idea in a span of three days” through business planning.
Schultz has been taking his toy to daycares and schools to focus on promoting education. He is still is trying to find his home, he said, and he does not know if he wants his product to be in toy stores, to cater to schools directly or to be placed in cognitive museums such as COSI.
Opa Toys has gotten some attention from toy companies in Chicago, where Schultz travels for meetings regularly. Marbles: the Brain Store and ASTRA are interested in his product, but he said he is unsure of whether he wants to run a large company, especially right after college. There is a lot of potential with the product and he is unsure of what direction he wants the company to move, he said.
Schultz would like to grow the company in Athens because there is incentive to bring manufacturing jobs into the region and he can afford to live cheaply while building the company, he said. Right now, he is looking for a team of people to bounce ideas off of.
“There’s a positive energy in this town towards innovation, towards bringing fresh ideas,” Schultz said.
Schultz has gotten a lot of positive feedback about his product and said “the passion is fueled by the positive reinforcement,” he said. He feels the simplistic toy stands out among the technological ones, and he believes there is a place for calm and quiet in today’s day and age.
“To be exceptional, you almost have to move away from tech. It seems retroactive, but it’s also what distinguishes it from its competition,” he said. “I don’t want to be flashy, I don’t want to be loud. ... It’s a place of comfort to me.”
Photos by: Emma Howells / Photo Editor
Developed by: Seth Archer / Digital Managing Editor