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For kids, by kids: Siblings create interactive board game that isn't just for children

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Heidi, 10, and Joey Hudicka, 15, said that when they walk into an office, it is unnecessary — and slightly insulting — to be offered crayons and Legos to play with.

The siblings are co-creators of Launch!, an interactive board game designed to teach grade-schoolers the vocabulary and fundamentals of entrepreneurship. They are not only out to play – they are out to win.

“People sometimes don’t treat us as seriously as they do our parents,” Joey said. “But we each have our own ideas invested in this game and therefore have an equal share.”

“It’s made for kids by kids, but everyone can play – even adults,” Heidi said.

Their parents, Joe and Lora Hudicka, agree.

“Within 10 minutes of playing the game, four out of five kids will have an immediate business idea and will be able to articulate what the name of their business would be, what it would do, and why it is important,” Joe said. “The excitement happens here, within the game, and once kids’ entrepreneurial spirits and creativity are engaged, that’s when more in-depth conversations can happen.”

The family of employees – including Joe, president and CEO; Lora, chief harmonizer; Joey, chief laughs officer; and Heidi, chief fun officer – has spent the last two years manufacturing and marketing the game within the state, sometimes to the astonishment of business organizations.

“People are surprised when Heidi and I are the ones opening up a meeting and saying, okay, this is what we’ve done, this is what we want to do, and this is how we do it,” Joey said.

But the family’s New Jersey partners have caught on quickly, Lora said, providing multiple entrepreneurial insights for her family.

“The experiences that we’ve had with local manufacturers and maker studios here have just been amazing,” she said.

Joey and Heidi’s advanced education began while they were still in car seats, talking with their entrepreneurial parents.

“It was a natural thing for Joey and Heidi to start asking questions and to start having ideas that they then would want to put into action,” Joe said.

Joe and Lora, owners of an IT consulting company Neurored LLC, continued to work as full-time technologists while engaging in productive playtime with their children.

After a while, though, Joey said their games grew boring and repetitive.

“I wanted to create my own games that challenged not only me but also my friends and family,” he said.

Joey created his first game, Puckz, when he was 5 and turned it into a mobile application when he was 7. He followed up with a mobile application called Goalz.

The two applications together were downloaded in more than 60 countries. 

“It’s just amazing to think that people from all around the world thought this idea was so good that it was worth their money,” he said. “It was that first rush that got me into entrepreneurship.”

Heidi was no different.

“When I was 4, I loved American Girl dolls, but I didn’t like this skirt or how this pair of pants went with this shirt,” Heidi said. “I wanted to create my own clothing for my dolls, but I didn’t know how to sew, or how to use a sewing machine, and neither did my mom.”

So the two looked it up online. “When I sewed my first outfit, that’s when my friend asked for one for her doll,” Heidi said.

When the siblings got the idea for Launch! in 2015, they created a company, Productive Play (now known as Fizzee Labs), and then a digital platform.

“Joey tested that platform with a few kids, but they couldn’t understand why they needed it,” Lora said. “That’s when we had the idea to create an actual, tactile board game.”

Joe said the family reached out to the Small Business Development Center in Bridgewater, which suggested they contact a few organizations. The one that responded right away was the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, which connected the family with the MIX Lab at Montclair State University, to engineer and 3D print the game pawns, and  Premium Color Group in Carlstadt, to print all other game materials.

“Joey and Heidi went in and described exactly what they wanted the pawns, these little rockets, to look like, while two professors completed the analysis and a group of college students mocked it up on a board,” Joe said. “It takes 50 minutes to drive from Montclair to Flemington, and by the time we had reached home, they already had completed the engineering and printing and had sent us a photo of the 3D-printed prototype.”

Having their game created in maker studios and local printers has resulted in strong quality control and educational opportunities, Lora said.

“Heidi and Joey were able to stand over a printer at Premium Color Group and watch their game being made,” she said. “That is priceless – something you cannot get overseas.”

It also is difficult, Joey added, to correct production mistakes when manufacturing outside of local areas. 

Launch!, which is available in limited quantities for $35 (with expansion packs costing $25), has lots of moving parts to keep track of. 

The base game and its expansion packs include 200 ‘Knowledge’ cards, 100 ‘Challenge’ cards, 50 ‘Boom or Bust’ cards, ‘The Original Young Entrepreneur’s Dictionary’ and tokens, and a post-game ‘highlights’ learning tool for up to four players.

The cards, written collaboratively by the Hudicka family, create opportunities to earn millions of dollars with knowledge, make good (or bad) investment choices, and participate in the random aspect of a ‘boom’ or ‘bust’ in business.

“So, for example, if I get an investment opportunity - a chance to use the money I have earned – to purchase a competitive analysis, I would need to invest $4 million in order to find out what my competitors are up to,” Joey said. “Do I buy, or pass?” 

“This is a teachable moment, one in which when you are playing the game with your family or with friends at school, and you’re not sure, you can stop and talk about it,” Lora said.

“Every card also has a business tip written on it, so there is a greater learning context from the experience of making any particular decision,” Joe said. 

Players also can choose whether to use a limited token to look up what a word means in ‘The Original Young Entrepreneur’s Dictionary,’ which includes more than 1,300 terms and definitions. 

“Don’t worry – I went through every single word to make sure that kids my age could understand,” Heidi said.

The base game teaches entrepreneurial vocabulary and basic business skills, while the expansion packs add new card decks, challenges and business fundamentals to learn.

The post-game ‘highlights’ learning tool can then be used at the end of the game, Lora said, if kids want to write down their business ideas.

Other games with similar missions to Launch!, Joe said, already assume that kids can apply business terminology and concepts to everyday life.

“But if you have never had that, how can you form a business plan or formulate a general ledger?” he said. “What will compel them to care enough to apply themselves to learn these things?

“We need to reach the kids where their minds are – not where adults think it should be.” 

After introducing and teaching Launch! to students in the Hunterdon County YMCA after-school programs, the Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce recognized Joey and Heidi for their work with the 2016 Amazing Kids in Business Award.

Both organizations also, in conjunction with Flemington Car and Truck Country, sponsored a Launch! event in May with fourth through eighth graders at the Deer Path YMCA in Readington Township.

“That [family-based] event was so awesome and left me in such a good mood,” Joey said. “I want to put on more events like that to reach and inspire as many kids as possible.”

A budding strategic partnership may soon make that a reality.

Someone at the event offered to introduce the family to a person at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). “Within five days, we were on a road trip down to the Goddard Space Flight Center,” said Joe.

A two-hour meeting turned into a five-hour experience at the facility, Joey said, and now, the family is in partnership discussions with NASA.

Joe said the people at NASA were interested in reaching a wider and more diverse audience of young people, and let them know there are opportunities at NASA that go far beyond the science.

In the meantime, Joe said the family is developing a curriculum and digital platform for after-school and in-school programs, and Heidi said she too is reaching out to companies such as Verizon, Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck in order to gauge their interest.

In bringing Launch! to schools, the family has been helped by Steve Kalafer, chairman of the Somerset Patriots and Flemington Car and Truck Country.

“I have seen somewhat of an absence of financial literacy in my grandchildren’s education, and that is something that everyone needs to learn,” Kalafer said. “The real story of how to make a profit and participate in the economy has got to be told as early as possible, and this is a fabulous product in which to do that.”

It may seem like a mind-boggling amount for Joey, a sophomore at Princeton Day High School, and Heidi, a fifth-grader at Immaculate Conception School in Annandale, to keep track of.

But these kids stop at nothing.

Joey said he finishes his homework on Friday so he is free to play hockey, pursue graphic design opportunities and work with Fizzee Labs on the weekends. 

And Heidi, in addition to running cross country, learning tennis and piano, and being a Girl Scout, is creating a business designed to help bees called Universe Matters. It will sell charm bracelets and necklaces with seeds inside that buyers can plant to help create friendlier environments for bees, which have been decimated by climate change, pesticides and loss of habitat.

As often as possible, though, the family insists on taking a break to enjoy family dinners together. “That is our time to go around and say one thing that was positive in each of ours days,” Lora said. “It makes us check in on one another and also gives us that time to creatively brainstorm.”

The family collectively added that, above all, they hope their story will prove inspirational.

“I hope that our game helps more kids and families get creative in making their own ideas real so that we can hear more about that in the news,” Heidi said.

“And I just want kids to know that, it’s okay, at any age, to have ideas that actually can contribute to the economy and be profitable,” Joey said. “Some kids may already have ideas, but they’re afraid, because they see business as [adults] going to work in suits and ties.

“They don’t see business as two kids in school who just made a game, and we want to change that perspective.”

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