Name and age: Rick Goodwin, 40
Company name and description: General Creation International Ltd., based in Bristol, Tennessee, creates educational toys.
Starting Point: $0 in 1995
1999 Sales Projections: $30 million
In the corporate world: Goodwin bought and designed toys for those arcade games where players use a crane to pick up prizes.
What's the big idea? "I started inventing my own toys [in 1994]. One was a bear that reacted to the sound of a smoke detector. [Big toy companies] said it crossed too many boundaries--too useful for a toy, too playful for a safety device."
Bye, bye, American toy: Deciding he would have to go directly to retailers, Goodwin found a partner, Billy H.C. Hung, and teamed up with four factories and an electronics company willing to take a risk. Goodwin knew, however, that it was impossible for a small company to break into the $21 billion U.S. toy market, so he launched Thermy Teddy (part bear, part electric blanket) in Germany through a European distributor.
Transition and translation: Continuing his theme of multitalented bears doing more than sitting around stuffed, Goodwin decided to focus on educational toys, particularly teddy bears with embedded microchips that allow the bears to help kids with reading, math and other tasks. His first educational toy, Baby Bear, brought in $1.5 million.
No hibernation: Goodwin quickly went on to create a full line of toys in seven languages and use his international success to enter the U.S. market. The United States now accounts for 50 percent of his sales.
Columbia Cascade Inc., (703) 860-0866, http://www.columbiacascade.com
General Creation International Ltd., (800) 323-8100
Toy Manufacturers of America, (212) 675-1141