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Interview with Al Buchweitz, Inventor of VersaHoop

Where were you born?

I was born in Chicago, the home of ChiTAG and lived in the suburbs growing up. My dad owned a small manufacturing company in Wheeling, IL where I got my roots in organizing chaos, plastic manufacturing, fabrication and product development. I was frequently making ideas out of “scrap” plastic and/or just capturing my ideas on paper. My first projects at the shop were to organize boxes and fill the soda machine.

What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

As children, we spent a ton of time outside with neighborhood friends in varying weather conditions. So what I remember most is basketball in the driveway, sledding on the trails at Turner’s woods or hockey on a nearby pond. Plus we often made up outdoor games, played ping pong and built forts.

Do you have any kiddos?

Yes, Stephanie and I have a blended family of 7 kids plus one son-in-law and another on the way. (Dana is getting married this Spring.) Our family gravitated toward active sports like boating (related activity), trampoline/gymnastics and hockey. In fact, our first sports product concept was basketball hoops for boating. We had played basketball many time in pools and thought why not play hoops off the side of a boat. It’s ironic that VersaHoop is also very popular with trampoline play.

How do you jumpstart your creativity?

I love connecting dots… not literally but figuratively. Sometimes this means introducing people to each other… that “should” know each other. Connecting seemingly disparate pieces of information or in product development taking two unrelated components and combining them to create a new product. For instance, our injection molding partner makes 5 gallon containers that are used for livestock feed bins. We added our proprietary bracket to the container to invent a “Canopy Caddy” that provides additional food serving and storage space for tailgaters and campers by attaching it to the pole on a pop up canopy tent.

What inspires you?

Disruptive leadership that changes the existing paradigm: Uber, Martin Luther, Apple, LexisNexis, Nelson Mandella. Individuals and organizations that initiate reform or change against all odds… and people benefit.

Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?

Michelle Spelman from Cincinnati. Michelle has hosted many events for toy inventors around Cincinnati and invited me. It’s a great group. And there’s always something new going on with a group of inventors. The Toy and Game Industry has many companies that provide products that align well with our mini basketball hoop line. (In other words, our products are not limited to just the sporting goods market.)

What’s your favorite food?

Ice Cream and dollops of peanut butter. Seems like more peanut butter than ice cream sometimes. Any flavor ice cream will work.

What’s your favorite TV show?

Stephanie and I like watching reality singing shows like “American Idol” & “The Voice”. We frequently find ourselves coaching the coaches… We like the raw talent, the learning experiences, the impact of good coaching and the rapid improvement of the participants.

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