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Industry: Consumer and retail
Product: Construction toy and educational kit
Product launch: 2014
Founders: Sabine de Maussion and Ayssar Arida
Sabine de Maussion and Ayssar Arida developed urbacraft in 2014 after identifying a gap in the toy industry for locally appropriate toys. Their main product is a hybrid “customizable building set” which allows individuals of all ages to form buildings out of modular plastic pieces – ‘urbs’ – and other printable materials and elements – ‘kits’ – such as a cardboard façade, which can be added and ‘hacked’ (e.g. ‘colored in’) by the user. Unlike other composite toy creators, urbacraft’s philosophy is rooted in open source construction, and allows the user to add parts they designed themselves. Their product for the recently opened Sursock Museum store includes a card façade with the building’s recognizable windows. Pieces are compatible with other toys, and parts or self-designed elements can be printed using either a normal or 3D printer. The company functions as a hybrid software-production company, since individuals who use the product can upload designs of façades or other parts to the urbacraft community, which in turn can be downloaded by other users and ranked in popularity.
In terms of local business, urbacraft aims to have small regional distribution centers for the plastic parts and encourage local economies by having children from the age of eight upwards print downloaded plans in local printing offices. This vision ties in with their aim to reduce their carbon footprint by not manufacturing in China, and figuring out distribution channels to those without access to a 3D printer, thus enabling localized manufacturing. In terms of expansion, Arida is keen to recruit Lebanese talent and hopes for a team of around 40 to 50 people within the first four years. “Two of our main needs for jobs are designers and product managers. Beirut is a fantastic place for both and the economics of Beirut makes it much easier and cheaper than to hire elsewhere. We will be tapping into the design, architecture and creativity that is already there – an extraordinary resource,” he says. The company also aims to continue running operations from its main offices in Beirut for the foreseeable future, hiring for sales and social media.
urbacraft has identified that the world’s largest consumers of toys over the next few years will come from emerging markets, and in particular the construction toy market has seen 35 percent year-on-year demand growth. While children are the main target market, Arida stresses the importance of such a model for other parties. “We’ve seen so much interest from adults like architects needing to prototype buildings or corporations using them for workshops for building design,” he says. Professionals and corporations are a secondary target market for urbacraft, along with educational institutions where the startup wants to expand sales into open-ended learning systems as educational toys.
Going forward, urbacraft is looking to raise between $500,000 and $1 million in seed funding over the next year, and is pitching to investors interested in consumer goods. It is currently the only non-American company enrolled in the XRC Labs accelerator in New York, which is a joint program between the Kurt Salmon global management and strategy consulting firm and the Parsons School of Design, also based in New York. The accelerator has taken a 6 percent equity slice for an undisclosed investment and provided services, and urbacraft has already been through Phase 1 of the UK Lebanon Tech Hub acceleration program.