About CHITAG Group
We are the Chicago Toy & Game Group and you can call us “ChiTAG” – pronounced SHY-Tag – for short. Founded by Mary Couzin in 2003, we produce ChiTAG Week, a series of events promoting and celebrating play and innovation that welcomes industry, consumers and traditional and social media the week before Thanksgiving. Our main events include:
Chicago Toy & Game Fair (since 2003). The first and the largest public toy and game fair in North America targeting families. In 2018 we garnered over 1.4 billion media impressions and entertained over 30,000 attendees.
Inventor and Innovation Conferences (since 2006) The largest gathering of professional inventors, new inventors and product acquisition executives in the world. Attendees come from approximately 25 countries to pitch ideas, network, learn and celebrate the toy and game inventor community.
Play in Education (PIE) Conference - (Since 2006) Studies show a focus on play means better performance in academics and social competence. This conference discusses strategies for bringing play into the classroom and provides CE credits.
Toy & Game Innovation Awards (TAGIEs) (since 2008). The TAGIEs are an elegant and playful evening gala that brings together industry leaders from inventors to manufacturers to retailers as well as the public for a celebratory evening of innovators and inventors from around the world for their exceptionally innovative spirit of fun, philanthropy, and humanitarianism.
Young Inventor Challenge (YIC) (since 2006). The YIC provides an opportunity for children ages 6 to 18 to showcase their original toy and game inventions to industry professionals, members of media and the general public. All entrants receive feedback from industry executives and inventors and the opportunity to win scholarships and licensing agreements with toy and game companies.
Media Influencer Event (since 2009) Hundreds of traditional media and social media influencers bring their families for breakfast, entertainment and a day of fun at the Fair.
PlayCHIC Fashion Show (since 2012) Fashion sells. The PlayCHIC Fashion Show celebrates dress-up by inspiring play through a new avenue - fashion.
Year round we send monthly newsletters to over 220,000 industry, consumers, social media influencers and educators covering many aspects of play for different audiences. What differentiates us, is our focus on the people. There are compelling inventor, designer, entrepreneur stories behind the playthings we love and we tell them which creates a deeper and more authentic bond between consumers and toys and games. We also host industry get-togethers around the world to connect in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.
Our Chicago Toy and Game Foundation was founded in 2011 and is a philanthropic foundation supporting many children’s organizations.
Mission and Vision
To promote innovation and build community through play by providing opportunities for people of all ages (friends, kids, families, inventors, designers, industry) to connect with one another and experience the joy and value of play. We envision a friendly, more creative and more tolerant world with people discovering they have more in common than not through the power of play.
We accomplish our mission through connecting people and telling the stories at our events (trade, consumer and media around the world – Fair, Conferences, Awards, Young Inventor Challenge, Get-Togethers), in our newsletters (trade, consumer, media, educator, inventor), in our TAGIE Holiday Gift Guide and in the media (traditional and social).
Meet the Team
Mary Couzin - CEO & Founder
After inventing, self-producing and licensing her own toys and games, Mary turned her passion for invention to help other inventors through DiscoverToysandGames.com, the world's largest co-op of toy and game inventors. In 2003, Mary launched the Chicago Toy & Game Fair (CHITAG) with a plan to create the largest American celebration of play. In 2006 she introduced the Toy & Game Inventor's Conference to help new inventors connect with industry experts, and in 2008 the Toy & Game Innovator of the Year Awards (TAGIEs) to honor and celebrate toy and game innovators. Tracks for professional inventors, design students, social media and play in education have been added to the Conferences through the years. Thinking to celebrate play in an edgier way, she launched PlayCHIC, a toy and game inspired fashion event in 2011. 2006 saw the debut of the Young Inventor Challenge which has over 250 kids competing from around North America and overseas. It’s all about encouraging inventiveness and creativity in kids!
Mary is a Selection Committee Member at National Toy Hall of Fame, a CES KAPI Awards Judge and a TOTY Award Selection Committee member. She has served on TIA's Associate Membership and PlayCon/ToyCon Committees. On occasion, she writes for ToyBook and other publications as well as actively posts in traditional and social media promoting the importance of play and innovation. She has spoken at ASTRA, NY Toy Fair, GenCon, World Congress of Play, Chicago Auto Show and ChiTAG hosted events.
She’s humbled by many honors through the years: 2019 Prestigious UK Toy Fair Inventors' Dinner I.D.I.O.T. Award (International Designer and Inventor of Toys), 2017 Women in Toys Elise Lachowyn Mentorship Award, Women in Toys Wonder Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 2009, 2011 TAGIE Founder's Award, 2011 Global Toy News Person of the Year and the 2014 Woman Driving Excellence, Chicago Auto Show. She is active in local politics having served on City Council, Parks Board, Sculpture Committee, Zoning Board and Plan Commission. She is a past United Way Board Member and mentors students at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management in their Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative. Mary received a BBA from the University of Notre Dame and a MBA from Loyola University.
Nadine Sehnert - Director of Operations
Nadine Sehnert uses board games to build community. She has been the administrator for the Twin Cities Board Games Meetup Group since 2006. She enjoys going to gaming events and especially meeting game designers and inventors. Together with her husband Mike Tangedal, they have a collection of over 3,000 board games dating from the late 1800's through today. She hopes to one day open a gaming center and create a permanent game library.
Nadine started attending our Chicago Toy & Game Fair way back in 2003 coming all the way from Minneapolis each year!
Marilyn Marwedel - Director of Human Resources
Marilyn is a retiree of Loyola University Chicago with 36 years of service. She was responsible for managing the daily administration of the pension plans and special retirement programs for faculty, staff and administration population of 6,000 both at the University and Medical Center. Since retiring 16 years ago, Marilyn has served as a volunteer on the Lincolnwood Police Pension Board, School Board Finance Committee, Co-chairperson of Fest Committee and as Treasurer for local political campaigns. She assisted with the United Way relief efforts for Katrina evacuees relocating to Chicago, and help raise funds for the town of Gautier, MS. She has also served on the board of Josephinum Academy and as president of the Alumnae Association.
Marilyn joined the ChiTAG Group in 2010. She loves seeing the smiling faces on the crowds of children racing in the exhibit hall, on opening day, anticipating their magical day at the Toy and Game Fair!
Supriya Perera - Director of Special Projects
Supriya Perera has grown up around the world. She is passionate about designing a good user experience and service design and have worked in this area for over 10 years. A recent 'transplant' from Australia to Chicago, she enjoys the energy and opportunity that this city has to offer. The Chicago Toy and Game web site streamline and redesign is keeping her busy with challenges in the unique position it occupies and the multitude of people the ChiTAG Group impacts.
Brent Rolland - Director of Auditory & Visual Delights
Chicago native Brent Rolland was possibly born in a Toys "R" Us somewhere in the city - being raised on LegoTM, robots, board games and more, his truth is that play is an art that is forever young. Brent is a DJ and event producer with Fig Media, plays drums/percussion in various local groups, and hosts, designs, and produces game shows for anime, fandom and corporate conventions nationwide. Brent celebrates his sixth year with the Inventor Conferences and ChiTAG Group, and is honored to be with an amazing team of individuals that selflessly deliver joy annually to Chicago's families and fun-lovers.
Alicia Alexander Klitsner - Director of Young Inventor Challenge (YIC)
Alicia Alexander Klitsner has been a long-time advocate of children and developing innovative ways for children to learn and is the Communications Officer at Larkspur-Corte Madera School District in California.
She is currently working to expand the Young Inventor Challenge, our contest encouraging kids ages 6-18 to invent their own original toy or game. Alicia has a BS in Elementary Education, Special Education from Vanderbilt University and a MA in Elementary Education and Language Development from New York University.
Patrick Matthews - Play in Education Contributor
Patrick Matthews is one of the publishers of the Games for Educators website and newsletter, and works as its editor and webmaster. He's also the president of Live Oak Games, and the designer of several award winning games. When Pat's not designing, reviewing, or playing games, you can find him on the swingset out back, playing with his two kids. He writes a newspaper column called DaddyTales about his (mis)adventures with the little guys.
Michelle Spelman - Contributing Editor
Michelle is a Live Wire! An urban mom of three boys, she is Editor of our newsletters and blogs and is our Inventor Relations Liaison. She is co-founder of Flying Pig Games LLC, creators of award-winning Jukem Football card game, founder of Cincinnati Game & Toy Industry Professionals group, and the Cincinnati Children’s Toy Examiner. Michelle is also an independent marketing consultant providing contract services, executive coaching and strategic direction that helps businesses leverage and integrate new media into their overall marketing objectives. She’s in her sweet spot when she is working with companies focused on women and family-oriented products and services.
Jackson Hurst - Web Developer & Assistant Editor
Jackson is an amazing individual and expert at juggling many responsibilities at once! He is our assistant producer and editor of our many newsletters, junior developer of our newsletters and website as well as our resident musician. Currently a junior at DePaul University studying computer science, when he isn’t busy with school work or programming, Jackson enjoys running, practicing guitar and ukulele, and spending time with friends. He is busy!
ChiTAG Advisory Board
Pictured above: Dan Klitsner (KID Group), Tanya Thompson (Hasbro), Adi Golad (Goliath), Dave Harris (Mattel), Peggy Brown (Peggy Brown Creative Consulting), David Yakos (Salient Technologies), Robert Fuhrer (Nextoy), Tim Walsh (The Playmakers), Phil Sage (Hasbro), Gary Swisher (Spin Master), Matt Nuccio (Design Edge), Ben Dermer (Spin Master), Karri Bean (Disney), John Barbour (Volta Capital), Richard Gill (McGill & Associates), Alan Hassenfeld (Hasbro), (missing Rachel Griffin (JAKKS Pacific) and Rich Mazel (Hasbro))
Senior Manager, Lego at Disney Consumer Products
SVP Creative Development, Deputy Creative Officer, Spin Master
Director, Inventor Relations and Strategic Partnerships
Inventor, Playwright, Designer, Author, Filmmaker, Funmaker
Chicago Toy & Game Group
Chief Explorer Monster
Chairman, Exec. Committee, Hasbro
Chairman, Hassenfeld Family Initiatives
Founder and Managing Director
Vice President Public Relations, JAKKS Pacific
Senior Director Global
Product Acquisition, Hasbro
Senior Director - Design & Development, iPlay, Hasbro
EVP of Design
Director Global Product Acquisition and Inventor Relations for Gaming, Hasbro
Filmmaker, Author, Designer, Creative Consultant, The Playmakers
Creativity Director, Co-Owner
Public Relations Team
PR and Influencer Strategist
Media Relations Specialist
Social Media team
Digital and Social Media Strategist
Social Media Specialist