Educational toys: success all over world

 In Brands

“Made in Portugal” educational toys are teaching and entertaining kids all over the world

In just 10 years, Science4you has turned playing into an art form and a successful business case study for growth: from a university project to an educational games and toys brand that sells in 40 different countries, with a business turnover of €27 million in 2017. This year, the aim is to consolidate its presence in its main markets.

The €27 million in sales are distri­buted between three companies in the Science4you Portugal group, the entity that sells in Portugal and in all the countries where they don’t have a subsidiary.

The growth recorded last year compared to 2016 stood at around €7.2 ­million. It represented a significant leap which, to a great extent, was down to  the company’s penetration into Target, one of the largest retail companies in the United States in 2017, which sold Science4you toys at its 1,800 stores.

“The US market is very important  for our internationalisation strategy, given that it is the largest toy market in the world,” Miguel Pina Martins, founder and company CEO, told Essential Business.

Along with the United States, in global terms, the European markets have the greatest share of sales, with emphasis on Spain (around €4.6 million) and the United Kingdom (close to €3 million), the two markets where Science 4you has subsidiary companies (in the other countries it operates through partners and distributors).

The company’s turnover overall in 2017 was €27 million, with Science4you Portugal continuing to contribute the lion’s share by far (almost €19.5 million), of which €12 million pertain to transactions to other countries. “If to this amount are the €6 million from our two subsidiaries, one can conclude that overseas sales represent around 70% of global revenues, with 30% in Portugal, where the percentage of sales has fallen comparatively mostly because of our ­successful internationalisation strategy and consolidation in key markets,” says the Science4you CEO.

Nevertheless, Miguel Pina Martins says that the growth goals for 2018 “are not so ambitious compared to other years”; indeed, the company intends to consolidate sales in its key markets and make its factory production in Loures (expanded by 14,000sqm in 2017 and employing 250 staff) more efficient.  However, he stresses that “we’re open to all opportunities that arise and can translate into positive business deals for us and our international expansion”.

Entering the Chinese market was “positive as expected, but without achieving a very high turnover, since the logistics are complicated, and we feel in the Far East the same logistical difficulties that some of our competitors who manufacture in China experience selling in Europe”, says Miguel Pina Martins. Science4you markets itself in the vast Asian market “as a premium ‘Made in Europe’ brand which is a distinctive ­factor and competitive advantage”.

Australia, Singapore, South Africa, Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Canada are other countries in which the Portuguese brand of toys and games penetrated around two years ago. Markets that have “developed well” include the US where “good results” are expected for 2018.

In terms of business management, the company has its own operations in Portugal while in other markets it ­operates via partners and distributors on the ground.

From university to the global market

Like a child that developed beyond expectations, the current size of Science 4you seems astonishing, but only to those who have not followed its growth closely and the sacrifices involved.

“The project came about during my degree, at a workshop with other colleagues and later as a company when I began with just one staff member and that was me who had to do practically everything required,” Miguel Pina ­Martins recalls. The entrepreneur recognises that the €45,000 he got at the beginning from InovPortugal was vital (one of the State-financed companies that in 2012 would become part of Portugal Ventures, currently the largest venture capital fund in Portugal with €213 million in assets). Indeed, “it enabled us to lay the foundations for the company that we have become today”. However, he extends his gratitude for the company’s success to date to “all the staff, stakeholders, partners and everyone who believed in the idea”.

Furthermore, in 10 years, the share value of Portuguese entrepreneurs has risen substantially. “When Science4you was founded, you heard little about ­entrepreneurship. Today, it has become a common word and I can assert that we are in an entrepreneurial country, with various projects and new companies that are becoming benchmarks in their own fields,” he says.

On the other hand, “if until a few years ago we saw (and still see) many Portuguese professionals recruited by large companies to work overseas, today we’re seeing large companies opening offices here to be close to ‘Made in Portugal’ ­innovation and employing Portuguese professionals because of their talent”.

Rather like the image of Science4you educational toys, the entrepreneurial world is about experimentation, following the instructions of those who make them, building and dismantling structures and taking risks. However, the founder and CEO stresses that “government support, for example through investments made by funds managed by Portugal Ventures, is and will be vital for new benchmark companies to continue to arise, and for the country to become increasingly more ­attractive at various levels, whether for ­international investment or talent retention, among other things”.

From soap balls to drones and robots, a world to build and rebuild

The success of Science4you toys and games is to take children’s natural preponderance to play with attractive materials and objects.

“Our aim is to let children learn and discover the various sciences in a fun way. Hands-on experimentation is fundamental to foster creativity in children and for them to spend and share quality time with their parents,” says Miguel Pina Martins.

Starting from this concept base, the brand was created with different product profiles for children of various ages. There followed the Eco, Junior, Science, Craft, Build and Play, Games4you and Tech4you ranges with multiple products in each category, from the most modern, like robots and drones to kits to make ­lipsticks, soaps, perfumes, ice-creams or crystals, and also classics like soap balls or volcanoes, not forgetting activities to raise environmental awareness.

More recently, the company forged decisively into digital territory, selling tablets for general use but with specific Science4you suggestions, cameras and video, and products too that work when connected to smartphones or tablets (like spy robots that work with wi-fi and apps).

It seems a strategic move. And as the saying goes, “if you can’t beat them, join them”. But Miguel Pina Martins plays that down: “I think that technological toys should also be part of a child’s reality, provided they are educational and used in moderation, and not as an alternative to keep them occupied for hours on end.”

Whether the toys are more aimed at digital platform use, or designed to be played with manually, the goal is the same: to develop logical and critical thinking, stimulate creativity and make children more aware of the world around them.