Jim Seymour - E-Blox Inc. on the Rise and Wiggling Eyeballs
What do you do in the industry?
I’m one of the co-founders and Chief Technical Officer’s of E-Blox Inc. E-Blox is an emerging leader in educational electronic toys and products that engage children to Learn by Building. Our Mission at E-Blox is to bring educational toys to the industry that are tons of fun that kids build themselves while growing their knowledge in the sciences and arts and equipping them with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century--and beyond!
What are you working on now?
I’m focused on bringing new educational toys to the toy industry that teach the fundamentals of STEM, STEAM and STREAM (adds Reading/wRiting aspects to STEAM) through fun, electronic based construction sets. They key is that if it’s fun, then kids will want to learn.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I actually spent the first 20+ years of my career in the wireless industry where I earned my Bachelor, Masters and PhD in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University and then worked on 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G wireless systems. I had a lot of success in the wireless industry and even earned the Bell Labs Fellow honor in 2006, and I thoroughly enjoyed my years in wireless. But at the same time, I was also missing out on the fun and success being built up by my Dad and Brother in the toy industry. We have a really close family so being part of the family business is one thing that pulled me away from the wireless industry and into the toy industry.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
One trend I see in the toy industry is towards more educational toys that teach STEM & STEAM. I have seen several studies indicating that millennial parents are nearly twice as likely to have graduate degrees than other parents, and bringing out educational aspects through toys is more important to them. It’s especially exciting to see the push towards STEAM products because while learning STEM concepts is good, being able to creatively & artistically apply STEM concepts to solve real world challenges is what turns a good engineer into a great engineer. So it’s great to see many new STEAM toys coming to market that are not fully instructional but encourage children to apply STEM concepts using their own artistic creative thinking.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
One of the first things I always think about when presented a new idea is safety. Safety always comes first with toys so before investing too much time into a new idea, think about the safety issues and even get your product safety tested by agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission. You may not think you have any safety issues, but until you get it tested you won’t know what you don’t know.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
If you want to be successful in the toy industry, and any industry for that matter, then there are three words I always keep in mind: Honesty, Integrity and Teamwork. Build trust with your boss, your peers, your customers, etc. through honesty. Have integrity by working hard, doing your best and being honest about your mistakes (we all make mistakes, and thinking you won’t ever make a mistake would be your first mistake). Help others on the team, ask for help from others on the team, and always praise other members of the team. You do these three things and you will be successful in any industry no matter what education or degree you have.
What does your typical day look like?
If I’m not replying to all my emails, then I’m either making another cool master build with E-Blox, or working on the development of the next new E-Blox product.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing kids get excited about solving a problem and/or making a project work. When a kid gets excited about learning something, then I feel like I’m contributing to society by helping create the next great future engineer.
What and/or who inspires you?
There are actually four tiers of people who inspire me. First and foremost I’m inspired by God, and at E-Blox we are Founded on Faith. Second, I’m inspired by my wife, my daughter, my parents and family who are always there for me and who are my role models for life. Third I’m inspired by my colleagues at E-Blox who are some of the most talented and team-oriented people I have ever worked with. And finally, as a massive sports fan, I’m inspired by Walter Payton and Michael Jordan (my childhood and young adult sports heroes. No coincidence my daughter’s name is…Jordan).
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
I’m a huge sports fan so I remember my first favorite toy being Statis Pro Baseball. I loved baseball statistics growing up and remember looking in the sports section every day to see who was leading in batting average, who had the most home runs, the most RBIs, the most steals, etc. With Statis Pro Baseball, I could actually set lineups for a game and simulate a game through action cards and player cards. While not perfect, it was amazing how close my simulated statics were to real life, and I believe Statis Pro Baseball was one of the first sports games that set the stage for all the computer simulations sports games today.
Where were you born?
What was your life like growing up?
I was very challenged as a kid because I grew up with Petit Mal, a seizure disorder with very brief, unannounced lapses in consciousness. Fortunately, I was able to take medication that fully cured me and I have had no signs of Petit Mal since elementary school. But I was on medication through 7th grade and I believe the seizure disorder and medicine I was taking held me back as a child. I had a very hard time in school, not only with my grades but also with being accepted by the rest of the class because I wasn’t very confident and acted less mature than my age.
Despite these challenges, I have to say that in the big picture my life growing up was fantastic because I had the two best parents in the world. My parents did everything humanly possible to help me get through my younger years, teach me right from wrong, and helped me build my confidence over time. And we always played games, went of fantastic vacations and they supported me in every sport’s league I participated in. Those are the things I will always cherish about growing up.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
I grew up in Deerfield, IL and this had a tremendous influence on who I am today. The schools in Deerfield up to and including high school are some of the best in the world, and by the time I got through Deerfield High School I was better prepared for college than 99% of the rest of the students. Thanks to Deerfield, I learned the importance of working hard at whatever you do and the importance of being part of a team and community through extra-curricular activities.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
Hard to narrow this down to one, but I would say that the biggest mistakes I have made were to let myself get a little too arrogant. I had a lot of success in college and at my first job at AT&T/Lucent/Alcatel-Lucent and it went to my head. I have learned to be a much better teammate and person in general by being humble.
What do you read every day, and why?
My Dilbert calendar. It provides some comic relief to start off the day, and sometimes it hits home and makes me aware of things I can do better in the workplace.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
My favorite gadget and APP is Slingbox and SlingPlayer. I love watching sports but often can’t be home to see my favorite team or game because I’m at the airport or at a hotel. I love being able to access all my TV content wherever I am.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
Talk to others. Everyone in this world has different talents and have had different experiences. So when I really need to think outside the box, I start getting input from everyone and anyone I can because usually it will spark something I never would have thought of by myself.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I laugh out load ALL the time. Especially at my own dumb jokes. It’s just my personality. Heck, I just laughed out loud now thinking about the last thing I laughed about 😊.
Are you named after anyone?
My grandfather’s name was James, and it’s a good Christian name.
Do you have any kiddos?
I have one daughter who is 10 years old. Her and my wife are the love of my life. As I said earlier, her name is Jordan, but she’s not so much a sports fan as she is an animal fan. She is just fascinated by any and all creatures, and the creepier the better.
Do you have any pets?
We have a dog (a Yorkie Poo) named Princess and a cat (I have no idea what she is) named Pretty. Princess is an incredibly cute dog that I think the pet store would keep her for free when we travel. Pretty has an attitude: feed me, clean my litter box and leave me alone (that’s a cat for ya!).
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I went to the Super Bowl this past February year. It’s was a bucket list item of mine, and it cost way too much, but it was an experience like none other.
Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which one(s)?
I played the trombone through college (I was a marching Boilermaker in the Purdue band), but did not keep up with it through grad school and beyond. My main musical instrument now is my voice as I’m a bass in my church choir.
What’s your favorite cereal?
Kellogg’s Special K Fruit & Yogurt. It’s a winner!
What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?
Do they make and keep eye contact with me.
What is your eye color?
Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?
I’m a sucker for happy endings (e.g. cried like a baby at the end of sleepless in Seattle).
Summer of Winter?
Summer…when I can play golf!
Hugs or Kisses?
Hugs…they work no matter what the emotion, happy or sad.
What’s your favorite TV show?
Excluding sports, which all come ahead of everything else, Designated Survivor is my favorite. I’m a big Keifer Sutherland fan from the 24 days.
Favorite movie of all time?
A Few Good Men. If you don’t like that movie, then YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!
What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?
Australia. Beautiful, but not worth the plane ride.
Do you have any special talents?
I can wiggle my eyeballs.
What are your hobbies?
Golf, fantasy football, movies, cruising, amusement parks, water parks, singing (choir and karaoke), video games.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I think you can tell from my hobbies that what I want to be when I grow up, if I grow up, is a big kid.
I’m looking forward to being part of the fantastic E-Blox team that takes E-Blox from a startup company to one of the greatest educational toy companies in the industry. www.myeblox.com
James P. Seymour was born on May 12, 1967, in Chicago, IL and received the B.S.E.E., M.S.E.E., and Ph. D. degrees from Purdue University, W. Lafayette, IN in 1989, 1991 and 1994 respectively where his research focused on improved phase synchronization techniques for mobile communication systems. In July of 1994, he joined AT&T Bell Laboratories in Whippany, NJ as a member of the technical staff for the network wireless Radio Performance and Analysis Group where his work focused on improved equalization schemes for TDMA PCS systems. In 1999 he became Technical Manager of the Wireless Algorithms Development Group in the Advanced Technologies organization at Lucent Technologies where his work focused on design and development of state of the art algorithms and performance for 3G systems. In 2006 he received the Bell Labs Fellowship award for his outstanding and seminal contributions to wireless technology and standards spanning 2G, 3G and 4G systems and significant impacts on Alcatel-Lucent’s business through outstanding technical support of Alcatel-Lucent’s customers. In 2013, he joined the Cisco Mobility CTO team focused on 4G Evolution to 5G. In 2016, he became co-founder and VP for E-Blox, a family business focused on teaching the fundamentals of STEM, Steam and STREAM through electronic construction toys. He is currently working for E-Blox in Buffalo Grove, IL as CTO for new technology Research & Development.