Inventor Events – Young or Old, New or Professional







Image1 Image1Mike Hirtle is a 36-year industry veteran who started his career at Mattel as an engineer in the Preliminary Design Department specializing in flying toys. Not surprisingly, since he has a degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland and a Masters in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford. Over the years, he also held key positions at Fisher-Price, Tyco and Hasbro. In 2011, he became a Game Industry Consultant for his own company, Paladin LLC. Hirtle is in a unique position, traveling the world looking for products for several companies.

An event that I proudly co-chair is the International Summit for Professional Inventors, I-SPI, ( a part of November’s great week of Toy and Game events sponsored by the Chicago Toy and Game Group. Established inventors from all over the world will gather to hear pitches from and meet with international companies, big and small. I-SPI was a resounding success in its 2011 debut; so much so that we are expanding the program this year to an extra day. I-SPI brings inventor relations executives from dozens of companies and gives them a chance to present their top-secret wishlists to the professional inventor community. The inventors are then able meet with the manufacturers in private meeting rooms to pitch concepts. There are also information-packed workshops and seminars relating to many aspects of the inventing business. For established professional inventors only, attendance at I-SPI is by invitation only and if you have not been invited previously, there is information on the website.

Here's what a sample of past presenting companies and inventors had to say:

“Last year, Ohio Art had the opportunity to meet new inventors at the Inventor Summit and we were extremely impressed with the quality of their ideas. This event is a great opportunity to connect with the best and brightest thinkers in the toy business" – Martin Killgallon, senior vp marketing and product development, The Ohio Art Company.

“I-SPI is a unique chance to meet with both the publishers and other game and toy inventors from around the world. It was especially nice to have the publishers make sales pitches to us inventors for once. And then the following days it was a pleasure to be able to meet with them in a focused and relaxed atmosphere where everybody was sincerely interested in seeing the concepts shown to them. So even though the Toy Fairs in both Nuremburg and New York are much bigger, I'm definitely not going to miss the chance to go to ChiTAG again and again and again." – Martin Nedergaard Andersen, inventor and owner of CAMP Games, Denmark. 

Attending I-SPI gives you access to the other events of the Chicago Toy & Game Week. Here is an outline of the other things going on that week:

TAGIE Awards – The Toy and Game Inventor of the Year Awards ( In just four years, I have watched this Friday evening event grow from four awards and 185 people to nine awards and a sold out crowd of 450 last year at the Museum of Science and Industry. We expect an even bigger crowd this year hence the move to the larger Field Museum. The TAGIEs are an elegant and celebratory event honoring inventors of both the latest and hottest toys and games as well as the classics. The media is increasingly taking note with coverage last November on Conan O’Brien, NY Daily News, London Telegraph, MommyTV and many others. 

T&GCon – International Toy and Game Inventor and Industry Conference at Navy Pier in Chicago ( This program, running concurrently with I-SPI, is designed for new or aspiring inventors/developers. I’ve watched it grow to over 150 attendees with 69 speakers. There are several tracks to choose from with topics ranging from using Social Media, doing business overseas, dealing with brokers, patent trademark and other legal issues, keys to good design and presentation and a lot more.  

The Chicago Toy and Game Fair ( The only major toy and game fair in the U.S. designed to allow for companies to show their products to the public. A giant focus group on the eve of the holiday buying season and getting bigger every year, ChiTAG is an important date on the industry calendar. Inventors have always been featured prominently at ChiTAG with many available to sign copies of their products.

Young Inventor Challenge ( A part of ChiTAG that I have helped with from the beginning is the YIC. Kids in two age divisions bring their toy and game inventions and exhibit them at ChiTAG. The fair attendees vote and the winners get some great prizes including a chance to attend New York Toy Fair and to be presenters at the TOTY awards dinner. Last year’s senior winner also got his game published by PlaSmart.

And finally, a service offered by the Chicago Toy and Game Group is DiscoverGames ( An incubator organization to help new inventors with free advice with an opportunity to join thereby getting a chance to have their creations shown at various shows and fairs.









15 thoughts

  1. Thanks for the clarification Mary! Yes, Mike, Mary and I are co-chairs for this event and we were thrilled with how it went last year. We’re excited to add the I-SPI Industry Papers this year! Can’t wait to see what our professional inventors submit! It truly is an honor to be working with M & M on this event.

  2. I love, love, love being part of this event! Mary never fails to inspire me with her dedication to inventors and to the toy industry. Being around Mike, Peggy, Kim, Pat, Mary Jo and a host of other pros is a real treat for me each year. Can’t wait for November!

  3. Although it is Mike’s article, I’d like to thank everyone for your I-SPI comments and thank both Tanya Thompson (Inventor Relations, ThinkFun) and Mike Hirtle for co-chairing (they did a yeoman’s job putting it together and thinking out of the box) as well as committee members Mike Gray, Richard Gottlieb, Peggy Brown, Tim Walsh, Kim Vandenbroucke, Bob Fuhrer and Richard Gill. Kudos to Jill Moore and Pat Matthews for keeping it running on time and smoothly on-site (no easy task) as well as Anita Daniel and Nate Scheidler for the behind the scenes magic. It was a team effort by members of the inventing community for the inventing community.

  4. The inaugural I-ISP was amazing! It was the most focused, informative, and useful couple of days that I have spent in my never-ending quest to get new games out there. As I told Mary after the show, it will be my first choice for events to attend in years to come. AND it was great to see old friends and meet new ones!

  5. We thought Mary & Mike & the whole crew did a great job with the first I-SPI. It was fun and a very productive use of our resources. We will be back this year.

  6. I-SPI is a fantastic opportunity for professional toy and game inventors to gather information, network, and exchange ideas. That in and of itself is invaluable, but it doesn’t stop there! The Toy and Game Fair is then held on the last two days of the week and opens to the public – providing exhibitors with an unparalleled focus test group and the community with the largest playdate ever!

  7. It’s THE event…. or group of events… for toy/game inventors including aspiring inventors. It’s a great opportunity to learn, network, and get the doors open.

  8. We’ve been attending for several years now. The access to new companies is incredible. However, part of what makes this event unique is the time and place to meet with inventor colleagues. Its becoming an important facet of the inventor community.

  9. It was a unique and wonderful experience to be in a room with so many of our game inventor peers, soaking in the latest updates from all the companies we do business with. I’ve found myself referring back to my notes from this event repeatedly as I planned game projects and subsequent submissions. I have to admit I was a little unsure going in, whether it would be all the same information we would get by meeting with companies at Toy Fair, Chi-Tag/T&G Con, etc, and getting updates there as we do. But the depth and breadth of the presentations was much greater than the one to two minute updates we normally have time for in pitch meetings. Well worth the time and investment, and a brilliant idea perfectly realized on the first go-round. Thank you!

  10. I worked the door last year at the publisher presentations at I-SPI… I’ve never seen a more excited group of people than I saw coming out of those sessions! Hearing what the publishers are looking for the day before you get to have private meetings with them? Unbeatable!

  11. Mike, thanks for shining a light on I-SPI and all of the great events that happen during Chicago Toy & Game Week. It’s probably the most important week in the industry for inventors as well as the only public fair, (ChiTAG) where families and kids get to play and try out the latest toys and games. It just keeps getting better.

  12. I attended the first i-SPI event this past November, and it was a rousing success. It was incredibly valuable to hear the toy/game companies give us their pitches — what they were looking for, info about their lines and what was planned for the coming season. It made our job as inventors much easier, since we could better target our games to the right homes. In fact, I licensed two games before the NY Toy Fair even rolled around! I think these events in Chicago during November may become the most important events of the year for inventors. – Mary Jo Reutter, inventor, You-Betcha Interactive

  13. As a professional inventor — I LOVED I-SPI! Hearing the presentations from all of the companies was great; it definitely provided motivation and direction as to what areas to focus on in the months before toy fair. And then being able to meet with company reps in rooms (real ones, with walls and doors!) was just amazing! It’s so much more relaxing than New York Toy Fair where you are forced to pitch on dirty tables, in the cafeteria, scary hallways, or in the middle of a busy booth. Thank you Mary and gang for putting this together! (And great article Mike!)

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