After building a giant robot in Vermont wilderness, Jaimie Mantzel has set out on a crowdfunding mission to kick start his toy KIT project.
By Jack Peat, Editor, The London Economic
After casually constructing a giant robot in an old airplane hangar stationed next to his four-story-high geodesic dome house in the Vermont wilderness, Canadian inventor and visionary Jaimie Mantzel is looking to pass his ingenuity on to the next generation by harnessing the power of crowdfunding.
The UK has been a driver of crowdfunding since its inception, allowing it to plug a void left by conventional lending methods as banks, angels and VCs withdrew from the market in pursuit of risk aversion tactics. Most major platforms are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and supported by the UK Crowd Funding Association (UKCFA), but its mainstream adoption has become both an asset and a flaw, as many old banking principles are given a new lease on life.
Businesses specialising in new blends of jam or damson-infused vodka are performing valiantly in the UK crowdfunding scene, but that’s not innovation and it could already be becoming a misused resource. The US, on the other hand, has taken a more rogue approach to crowdfunding, “bringing creativity to life”, in the parlance of Kickstarter, despite not having the same level of backing from the Financial Services Authority as enjoyed in the UK. But without state involvement, crowdfunding is able to achieve what it does best, and the entrepreneurially-driven approach complements the ingenuity of Mr Mantzel and his new toy robot KIT, which went live on the aforementioned platform this week.
It all started with 22.5 acres of land. Deep in the New England wilderness, Mr Mantzel has spent several years constructing a haven of ingenuity. The four-story-high geodesic dome is the centerpiece, featuring DIY central heating and plumbing connections and a trampoline as one of the floors.
Away from family life, his office has been constructed from an old airplane hangar crafted into “a Banana Building” to house his giant six-legged robot, equipment and tools. A self-made lumber mill that Mantzel uses to make his own wooden planks from the trees that dot the landscape allows him to build on his empire, which has become a Hobbit-esque retreat in one of America’s most aesthetically pleasing states.
To the crowd
Dubbed the Greatest Toy KIT in the Universe, Matzel’s latest YouTube post opened: “Here’s why this robot toy kit thing is impossible.” The design is flawless. It’s aesthetically pleasing, mentally challenging and its completely customisable. The problem from the toy company’s perspective is that two of those adjectives don’t market well.
“As I work in the toy industry, I’ve realised they deal to the lowest intelligence level they can,” Mantzel says. The concern is that by producing intellectually challenging products, the toy firms alienate a certain segment of the market. “You get the biggest market share by making dumb stuff,” Mantzel adds, which essentially means market forces are dictating a child’s development.
“The problem with this is that kids aren’t learning. I’m doing a robot kit that is perfect for beginners, they learn new stuff. I wish I had this when I was a kid, but no toy company will sell this.”
Hence crowdfunding. Mantzel is having to go this alone and is using Kickstarter to get backing from the crowd so he can further his project. The pitch, available to view here, has managed to raise almost $40,000 in the early days but is still way short of the $350,000 goal. Given that crowdfunding appeals to armchair investors with a conscious rather than just a fat wallet, those who share Jaimie’s passion for early development, ingenuity and creativeness now have the opportunity to make it happen.