'92 grad Harlow's games
aim to make education fun


By Brian Grady

Jeff Harlow, a 1992 Elon communications graduate, has turned a lifelong hobby creating board games into a potential multimillion-dollar business. Last year, he launched Funskills, Inc., an educational board game and puzzle company based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Funskills has produced two games: Math Whiz Tray Puzzle and Lollipop Kidz. They have received rave reviews from children and parents. The games were unveiled at the 2002 International Toy Fair in New York, and caught the attention of major toy retailers, including Toys R Us, which is expected to begin selling the games on its Web site this year.

Harlow says both games have broad appeal, and make learning fun. For instance, Math Whiz features animal pieces that youngsters manipulate to solve equations and practice addition and subtraction. The pieces also have animal facts on the back.

"It's a fun way to bring the subject to the kids," Harlow says. With Funskills, Harlow has combined his knowledge of board games with his background in marketing and corporate communications to tap into the booming educational toy market. "It's the next billion-dollar market in the toy industry," he says.

The strategy of board games has always fascinated Harlow. He started building prototypes of games when he was 6, including one based on World War II and a trivia game. "I liked to see how people reacted to the games I created," he says. "I'm a really creative person, and I enjoy that aspect of it."

Harlow says he gets ideas by "looking at how people create their games and seeing what the flaws are and how to improve."

Funskills is the second company Harlow has launched. After graduating with a communications degree, he started an advertising company, Look Marketing Design, and counted Coldwell Banker, DC Power and Shallowford Farms Popcorn among his North Carolina clients.

Although he was pleased with the venture, Harlow longed to market his own products and created Funskills. Both companies are based in Winston-Salem. "I got out of advertising because I noticed I was getting a lot of my clients rich," he says. "I'm more of an entrepreneur than anything."

Harlow is excited by the early success of Funskills, which he says has 35 games on the drawing board. He expects the company to grow substantially over the next several years.

"We're probably not going to be as big as Mattel or Hasbro," he says. "But for the educational market, we'll be a major player."

(Reported by Brian Grady, Elon class of 2006)



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Last Modified:  7/21/03
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