It’s not about an idea, It’s about making an idea happen!
Like most game-changing ideas, the Engino story begins with a real-life problem and an inventor in a garage determined to ﬁnd the right solution.
When Costas Sisamos started experimenting with STEM learning systems back in 2004, STEM was just a blip on the educational horizon. But Costas, a Primary School teacher with a Mechanical Engineering background, knew that STEM was the future and that the best way for children to master STEM skills was by designing and building their own models.
Back then in Cyprus schools, the subject of Design & Technology was the closest to modern-day STEM and Maker spaces. During these classes, children were crafting models using wooden strips while learning about Technology. The problem was that students were limited to specific materials and equipment and ended-up spending too much time crafting and less time experimenting, learning, and inventing. Students were getting quickly disappointed and could not experience the wonder of engineering. This problem needed a solution; a solution that would allow students to materialize their ideas by easily constructing and modifying their models, inspiring them to become our future Scientists and Engineers.
Every day when Costas entered the classroom, the problem became more and more evident. And was calling out for a solution. Drawing knowledge from his engineering background, Costas started developing the first sketches of his idea for modular plastic connectors and made the first 3D printed prototypes for testing. The first test was with his children at home, but it turned out to be a huge disappointment! The solution was not as straightforward as originally thought and many unknown factors became evident, such as cost, functionality, user-friendliness, expandability, and industrialization.
For more than a year, Costas struggled in his garage over many nights and weekends creating various designs and prototypes only to realize that the solution was much more complicated and could never be found at such pace.
The investment needed to make injection tools for proper plastic testing, along with the time to develop a viable solution, exceeded the possibilities available as a full-time teacher and a father of 5. Costas turned to family, friends, and angel investors for funding, but at the time, on the small island of Cyprus, the idea of developing a system to teach children engineering seemed too unrealistic. After all, the problem Costas had identified was not experienced by grown-ups and STEM wasn’t even on the horizon.
But Costas didn’t give up. He took the decision to resign from his teaching position and work full-time on his invention, even if it would financially burden his family. He quickly learned how to make a business plan and applied for Research Funding, securing the first small capital that would allow for some more rounds of iterations.
Costas had to teach himself advanced Plastics Engineering, practical tool making, and even packaging design, learning more and more with every failed attempt! At some point, it seemed that despite all the work, good results would never be yielded, and with the rate expenses were piling up Costas was about to throw in the towel.
He probably would have, had he not stumbled upon the Thomas Edison famous quote: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration”. If Edison failed 1000 times before succeeding in inventing his lightbulb, then a few more iterations to better teach our kids was worth going the extra mile. After 2 more years of Research and Development, Costas finally cracked the solution! The ENGINO® system was created: a full-blown building system that could help children develop their skills and creativity at both their homes and their schools.
Next step, volume manufacturing!
Being unable to find investors again, Costas and Emily - his wife who now joined the cause - put their house on mortgage and took the risk of taking ENGINO® out into the world. Subcontracting the first pilot production in Asia in 2007, the product was displayed in international exhibitions such as Nuremberg in Germany, receiving the “Dr. Toy” award, and attracting attention from toy stores. Yet, ENGINO ® was too niche at the time to achieve significant volumes, especially when backed up with TV marketing, a trend that at the time was a must in every major toy launch. Still, sales did start flowing in, initially from Korea, then from the USA and Europe.
Still, sales were not as expected, and Costas began to worry that the STEM market was not yet mature enough to adopt ENGINO® technologies. The new start-up seemed to be up to more hurdles ahead and perhaps to a complete failure! That’s when Costas decided to donate all the remaining stock of the first production batch, around 4000 units, to the Ministry of Education, so that all Primary schools in his home country would be equipped with the tools he envisioned for hands-on teaching Design & Technology. The legacy of ENGINO ® would at the very least remain as a token, of what he had strived to create.
The company continued slowly, with Costas and his growing team of designers that joined in, developing new parts. When everything seemed to be happening in vain, one day, around 6 months after the donation, a teacher called at ENGINO® offices asking to buy more sets. Costas was curious and he picked up the phone himself to find out why. The teacher was calling from a special-needs school. She said that one of her younger students who had kinetic difficulties was unable to write. But after a month of playing with the ENGINO ® snap-fit parts, his fingers become strong enough and to everybody’s surprise, he can now write! This was the biggest reward Costas could have ever expected! Even if the market was not yet ready for ENGINO® , the fact that the life of one child was changed, then it was worth creating!
Costas took great inspiration and determination from this. This one child had reignited and fuelled his driving aspiration to continue, despite the business knocking at the door of the darkest hour.
By 2012, the company was large enough to make a bold move and transfer all manufacturing to Europe, investing in its own production facility in Cyprus where quality would be better controlled, and innovation cycles would be much faster. Over the coming years, as the ENGINO® name grew, Costas’ STEM toys racked up one award after the other both in Cyprus and abroad, making ENGINO ® one of the fastest-growing companies in the STEM toy ﬁeld. Today, Engino’s third generation of constructional toys are distributed in over 50 countries and power STEM classrooms around the world, while also bringing to homes the wonder of engineering innovation. As STEM learning principles enter mainstream education, the Engino team is working harder than ever to develop even better learning tools that will keep young minds hungry to explore, design, create and invent.