Brandcenter alumna helps roll innovative toy into the marketplace

Photos courtesy Hackaball

It has been the object of games for centuries, so how does a ball become one of Time magazine’s best inventions of 2015?

The ball is Hackaball, and it’s a serious technological advancement over the soccer ball or basketball. Using a simple app on a mobile device, children can program Hackaball to play traditional games such as “hot potato” or they can create their own unique gameplay. With the correct coding, the ball will also change colors, vibrate and make sounds at the programmer’s whim. Put simply, Hackaball is a computer you can throw around with your friends in the backyard.

“The Time list came something like eight months after the initial launch, and it was just a massive validation,” said Rachel Mercer, a 2012 Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter graduate. “We do genuinely believe it’s a very unique product in the space, and we’re very proud to see it on that list.”

Made by Many, a London-based consultancy where Mercer was a senior product strategist, invented the Hackaball prototype as a side project before placing it on Kickstarter to raise cash. The Kickstarter campaign raised $240,000 and Mercer’s role in the early days of Hackaball was to create a strategy to get it on the market quickly. Mercer and her strategy teammates tested Hackaball during a series of play dates with London-based families.

“We needed to know whether or not kids would play with it more than once, what moms and dads felt like it needed to do in order to be worth the price tag and what the price should even be in the first place,” Mercer said.

Hackaball is marketed as a fun option that bridges the gap between technology and socialization — a simple toy that separates children from their computer and tablet screens, yet helps them learn the logic of programming and encourages creative thinking and outside play. To Mercer, it was also paramount that it be a tech toy designed for and marketed to both boys and girls.

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