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MakerBrane: Driving diversity in the world of toys

MakerBrane’s global platform is setting out to drive diversity in the toy industry by empowering anyone, anywhere to design their own toys and create locally relevant play environments.

When Sabine de Maussion and Ayssar Arida moved to Beirut, they had an epiphany when realizing that their kids played with toys that were irrelevant to their cultural background and environment.

MakerBrane – one of the startups from Womentum 2019, a women in tech accelerator by womena® in partnership with Standard Chartered – equips creatives with the tools they need to design virtual assets that can then be reproduced digitally and physically into toys, merchandise, video games, and even 3D printed.

The Lebanon-based startup is disrupting what is currently a $70 billion global market at the intersection of STEM toys and virtual goods, through their creative platform that challenges the biases of the toy industry by allowing people to create diverse representations in the world of toys and play.

“The toy industry is still functioning as a 19th Century industry, both in terms of the logistics, and in terms of carbon footprint,” says Ayssar.

“Eighty percent of all the toys are sold in the US and Western Europe so the toy companies focus on these guys,” he explains, “This leaves 95 percent of the world’s kids in a situation where they’re almost colonized by these toy companies.”

Sabine was previously an art curator and strategist for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and later a visual culture educator. She is driven by a passion to make environments more relatable and diverse while exploring how people engage with design, art, and creativity.

As an architect, urban designer, and author, Ayssar has been passionate about creating infrastructures that empower citizens globally. Inspired by their kids, the married couple channels their combined passions and areas of expertise into MakerBrane.

In 2014, they launched their first startup, Urbacraft, as a construction system where anyone could create cityscapes into toys using different pieces. As it gained traction, they wanted to expand from solely being architectural to creating modular Urbacraft pieces that allowed kids to build almost anything with the freedom to combine any other existing toys to it, such as Lego.

The startup then began to think even bigger, not wanting to settle for just the physical realm but scaling to the digital, and this is how MakerBrane was born, allowing anyone to create, build, and sell toy designs.

“We figured we can make a catalog which is a billion times richer and much more diverse than any existing toy company can create today by crowdsourcing it,” says Ayssar, “Anybody in the world can inject designs into this catalog and this catalog is what we provide for consumers to buy.”

MakerBrane’s goal now is to strengthen their presence in their existing communities around the world. Currently, their main demographic is within Asia – in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Singapore – as well as the United States and in South America, mainly in Brazil and Mexico.

The startup’s ethos is in democratizing toys by being universally localizable, regardless of age, gender, location or cultural background.

“There are infinite ways to play with what has been created on the platform,” says Sabine. “We discovered that there’s an after school program in Vietnam using MakerBrane to teach design to students, In Iraq, 1,000 kids are learning design with MakerBrane. It’s extremely rewarding.”

Set in the innovative ecosystem of Berlin and the bustling investment hub of Dubai, Season 2 of Womentum Series follows the journey of entrepreneurs from MENA’s top female-led tech startups as they go through a four-month accelerator. Join us as we dive deeper into the highs and lows of entrepreneurship and the challenges they face as they build and grow their businesses. Check out Season 1 of the series!

Read more #WomentumStartup profiles: FreshSource, Luxury Promise