Frustrated with seeing female superheroes consistently relegated to sidekick roles in pop culture, startup toyco HeroMe is providing kids with an innovative new platform that lets them design their own female action figures and their unique back stories.
Less than a year after crowdfunding US$34,585 on Kickstarter to launch a line of customizable male superheroes, HeroMe is back. This time, the Jacksonville, Florida-based company is hoping to raise US$25,000 to help fund a similar line of female action figures that project strength and confidence.
“We want the girl HeroMe’s to be the head of the HeroMe league—the ones starring in the adventures,” says Josh Bryan, who co-founded HeroMe with his wife Annie. “Our mission is to inspire creativity and encourage kids to do good.”
Through the company’s website, kids get to create their own superhero in the Hero Me lab by choosing the head and super-powered arms and legs, to go with the specially designed female torso. The process takes a matter of minutes, and within 48 hours of the order’s submission, a brand-new customized HeroMe (US$40) will be shipped in a rocket-shaped box, along with a 56-page educational handbook to help kids write their hero’s story.
According to Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute and researcher in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, this type of imaginative play directly correlates to building a range of skills, including literacy, visual/spatial STEM, social negotiation, emotional regulation, perspective taking and the ability for kids to imagine “What if?”
“Imagination and play lay the foundations for adult creativity and deep learning,” he says. “It increases their ability to organize a coherent narrative and really improves their planning and organizational skills.”
Through focus-group testing with local educators, Bryan has found that the narratives for HeroMe’s action figures become more elaborate and complex as kids get older. And since they aren’t locked into a predetermined backstory, there’s plenty of room for open-ended play, too.
HeroMe female action figures hit on a few other trends in addition to open play, like the year of the female superhero (DC Super Hero Girls franchise, a new female-only Transformers team) and customization (Toy Like Me, I am Elemental). “Making toys personal and allowing for customization makes it more likely a child is going to engage with it for an extended period of time,” adds Kaufman.
The element of customization, along with maintaining children’s creative license, are key pillars to HeroMe’s business going forward. While the company is always on the lookout for growth opportunities, such as partnering with toy stores to allow kids to create their own action figures on location, its main focus at the moment is delivering its female HeroMe version to market by spring/summer 2016.
Together with the HeroMe’s second entry in the toy space, the company has also been growing its presence in the community by partnering with local children’s healthcare organizations like Ronald McDonald House Charities of Jacksonville, Nemours Specialty Children’s Clinic and Wolfson Children’s Hospital.
Bryan was inspired to create HeroMe after volunteering as a big brother in Charlotte, North Carolina. He discovered his little brother, an eight-year-old boy, drew fictional characters—Math Man and Subtraction Man—in his notebook to help himself become more comfortable with math. And in his experience so far with HeroMe, he says it has been amazing to see the powerful and positive effects these toys have had for kids suffering from chronic illnesses and developmental issues.
That doesn’t come as a surprise to Kaufman. He thinks this type of play experience could also inspire hope in kids who come from poor or dangerous neighborhoods, to view themselves as a superhero who can rise above their current circumstances. “It’s important to have some sort of future image of yourself as a child,” he says. “It really does give kids hope, and hope is a good predictor of academic success, as well as creativity.”