By Maura Kelly.
Bábógbaby or BB, the world’s first Irish-speaking teddy bear has been busy on the red carpet. A recent winner of the Galway Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneurship Award and a Gold Award in the Electronic Toy – Preschool Awards in London, BB is also the star of a new children’s toy company in Galway. The teddy is the brainchild of Adrian Devane who set up the company in 2010 to provide tools and toys for toddlers, children and parents to learn those first cúpla focal (couple of Irish words).
The birth of BábógBaby reinforces the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention and highlights the innovation that is happened in Ireland.” I recently talked with CEO Adrian Devane to hear how he set up his company in a challenging economic climate.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I saw a gap in the market. After having my first child, my wife Karen and I noticed there were lots of toys available but none that spoke or taught Irish. I investigated what was out there, took apart a few teddies and discovered how it all works.
Was it hard to break into the educational toy business?
No, I knew I have a unique idea and BB was going to be the first Irish speaking teddy made. There were books, and TV shows but no toys. So I researched it and built a toy that teaches 33 words of Irish; basically numbers, colors and shapes. AIB gave us a start-up loan of €100,000, and that enabled the company to make initial orders. We’re now in 100 stores in Ireland and in 14 US states.
You just got back from Hong Kong. What does HK have to do with Irish bears?
I was attending the Toy and Games Fair and the Licensing Show. I went there to source a new supplier for our bears. We make our teddy bears in China where 92% of the world’s toys are made. I also wanted to source merchandise to coincide with the release of our animation series on TG4.
TG4 has just commissioned a 10-part TV series based on the teddy. How did the series come about?
I always intended to build a brand that was an animation series and a toy. Often the TV series happens first then the merchandise but we created the teddy first. Together with Igloo Films and producer Brian Willis, we developed and submitted a TV proposal to TG4 and BAI (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland). We got funding to make 10 episodes of 5 minutes. The pre-school series is called BB agus Bella and features BB and a little girl, Bella. In each episode BB takes Bella to Beartown to deal with a problem of the day.
How many people will the TV show employ?
35 people from animators and storyboard artists to writers will work on the production. Kealan O’ Rourke of “The Boy in the Bubble” fame, narrated by Alan Rickman will direct for us.
I understand a BB app has been developed. What features does it have?
The Bábógbaby app is available for the iPhone, iPad, iTouch and Android platforms. It does what the teddy does and teaches 33 words of Irish. Like the teddy bear it is voiced by my daughter Robyn (aged 5).
What are your plans for 2012?
The animation series on TG4 is a high priority. We plan to roll out BB in more states in the US, and launch BB in other languages such as, English, Welsh and Scots Gaelic.
What is your favorite part of the business?
It’s an exciting time to be building a business and I love working on the animation series. I’ve worked on feature films and TV for over 14 years so that is my background. I work near where I live so I am close to my family. The fact that my wife Karen and kids are involved makes it extra special.
Researchers say early immersion in a language has a direct result in language acquisition later on. Locally, Peter Ryan, Irish Deputy Consul General NY will soon find out. “We have one of the Bábógbaby products and it is brilliant! My one year old loves BB and so does my 8 yr. old.” says Ryan. “The company is an Irish success story and a great example of innovation meeting opportunity”
For those who want to say hello to BB, you can get acquainted with the bear on the website. www.babogbaby.com.
This article first appeared in the Irish Echo, Januray 2012.