Posted on December 5, 2018
Bildits is a childhood dream come true for its founders. It has already become a staple childhood toy for many. The toy gives children a real hands-on experience with construction, taking them through the process with miniature realistic materials, tools, and guides. From constructing steel structures to installing formwork, pouring cement, building masonry walls and exterior paint, children can dream up, design and build any house they want.
The concept of the toy was thought up by Rayan Barhoush, a young engineer expatriated to Saudi Arabia. For years, he got his two close friends, Elias Chemaly and Wael Saade, excited about the idea too. Which is what it remained until the first time they worked on it, in 2016, during the Mount Lebanon Youth Entrepreneurs Competition.
The team responded to an online call for applications sent out by Berytech. Out of the 116 applicants who responded, 10 made it to the finals, and 4 won the grand prize of $15,000 and 6 months of incubation at Berytech. Bildits was one of them. “We had to work on a business plan, create a prototype and develop our product,” explains Wael, “we had no idea how to do any of that. It was a period of discovery and learning for us. We won the competition in March 2016 and we thought we would be launching by Christmas. But it was technically impossible.”
The first challenge was that the kit contained more than 700+ pieces and 25 different types of material. After developing their prototype, the team tried to outsource the manufacturing to a company, a process that was slow and dead-ended.
Back at square zero, they took the drastic decision of doing it themselves and ended up creating their own manufacturing space in a family-owned warehouse. They had to study how each item should best be made, minimizing the cost of raw material and optimizing the design. “When we first started, we created our bricks by cutting them on the CNC machine, and looking back I would laugh at the idea because it was time-consuming and counterproductive. Today we work with molds and we have a production line,” says Wael.
It took them a year to create the first batch of 100 kits as a pilot test. All of which sold out in three days at the local toy shops during Christmas.
In parallel to taking over the manufacturing process and beta testing their first version, the team developed an interactive class that teaches children about the whole process of construction using the Bildits kit. “The idea to create a school course was born from a need to test our product and receive immediate feedback.
We tested it in 3 different schools and the feedback that we received was amazing – from the kids, their parents and most importantly their teachers!” beamed Wael. Seeing the importance of their work, the team added a social layer to their startup: creating an impact in education.
The course, which has been adopted by 20 schools to date, gives the children room to experiment with the basic theories of engineering, testing what they have learned in physics, geometry and even chemistry.
With their new social mission incorporated into their business model, Bildits took the challenge of yet another Berytech competition, the Global Social Venture Competition, open for startups with social or environmental impact, landing in the top 10 finalists in the 2018 edition.
Meanwhile, Rayan quit his job in Saudi Arabia and returned to Beirut to focus on the production and manufacturing of Bildits. Wael is handling the marketing and business development, while Elias supports remotely from Korea where he is finishing his master’s degree.
“We’ve always wanted to create a toy, but this is where it stopped. I’ve never been business oriented, I’ve never thought of the bigger picture, of becoming an entrepreneur and working to have a company with impact. I went from being a student to being a full-time entrepreneur. The day of my graduation, I rushed back to the workshop, took off my cap and gown, rolled up my sleeves and went straight to work. There were deadlines to be met.”
Being part of a supportive ecosystem has prepared the team for success. After the incubation period with Berytech, the startup went through the Elevate Impact Accelerator and won the support of UNICEF, which helped them work out the details of their social impact. They went on to receive the Kafalat SME grant and to win the third place out of 60 countries in the Grow My Business competition in Denmark.
The team’s vision is to expand the production capacity, increase features in the toy, including sustainable construction elements, solar panels, water piping, and electrical piping, and eventually open up to European markets.
Their ultimate goal is to raise one million dollars in funds. Today, the startup has just launched its biggest release to date: 1000 kits to be distributed in the Lebanese toy market. Will you be gifting a Bildits kit for Christmas?
Hint: You can pre-order the kit here.