Sunday 28 May 2017

Exclusive: Irish start-up secures €1m investment to develop 'wholesome' doll who launched into space

Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

An Irish start-up that has received global recognition for its innovative doll product has secured a €1m investment to help further grow the company.

Arklu, the makers of the Lottie and Finn dolls, will use the funding to expand the geographic reach of the Donegal-based toy company.

The investment has come from the Davy EII Tax Relief Fund which is managed by BES Management DAC.

Owned by BDO and Davy, the joint venture company seeks to invest in companies with capable management teams and future growth potential.  

Lottie Dolls was first launched in August 2012 after MD and co-founder Ian Harkin spotted a gap in the market for "a wholesome doll".

"We spent 18 months researching this product speaking with child psychologists, mums and kids groups etc to find out what was best," he told independent.ie.

Unlike other doll products on the market, Lottie, Finn and Friends are based on nine year old children with a focus on childhood adventures and empowerment.

“By basing the Lottie and Finn doll on a nine year old child we are able to avoid adult related narratives, like these ‘footballers wives stereotyped glamorous lifestyles’ and instead focus on being a child, getting outdoors, building a den, getting muddy, using their imagination and having fun,” said Harkin.

In June 2016, the company compete against 30 of Ireland’s leading start-ups to become the overall winner of the Google ‘Adopt a Start-up’ competition.

A unique aspect of the firm's design strategy is that they allow a number of their dolls to be designed by kids.

One Lottie doll in particular, designed by a little girl called Abigail, is special as she got to spend 264 days aboard the International Space Station with ESA Astronaut Tim Peake during the Principia mission. 'Stargazer' was aboard the ISS when it was launched to space in December 2015 and returned to Earth in August of this year.

"Abigail's mum contacted us to say that she was delighted to find a doll that fit in with her and her family's values - so we contacted her back and learned that Abigail had a huge interest in astronomy so we worked with her and her mum," Harkin said. 

"We also contacted the European Space Agency about different activities an astronomer could do - and then we cheekily asked if we could we send it up into space. We weren't expecting them to say yes!"

Additional milestones that Arklu have achieved in the last 12 months include major partnerships with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and a publishing partnership with Penguin.

"The books were created internally and we worked with some of the top writers and illustrators for children's novels. With Penguin we will release two different activity books and two chapter books  per year over the three year deal," said Harkin.

Sinead Heaney, Partner at BDO, said that the Arklu team "have created unique, distinctive and innovative products which have already received international acclaim". 

"Through this investment we are supporting a capable management team in its ambition to expand internationally.  We are looking forward to working with them over the coming years to assist them in achieving their business goals,” she said.

“We will be exhibiting in Nuremberg, London, the NEC in Birmingham and in New York in the New Year with lots of new products being showcased; and now with the funding to back it up, so it’s onwards and upwards for Lottie, Finn and Friends in 2017!”

At the moment there are 24 different available dolls, with about 12 outfits, and around six play sets to choose from.

In 2017, Arklu are looking at the introduction of around 20 new products and extending the play patterns of the Lottie Dolls.

Arklu employs 10 people in its Donegal HQ, and hopes to double that number in the coming year.

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