Young Mississippi Entrepreneurs Leading the Way in Toy Development
Special to Delta Business Journal
What began as a college project leveraging technology to spark up parties and other gatherings has led to an entrepreneurial Mississippi startup company lighting up lives through creativity, technology and philanthropy.
Hagan Walker and Anna Barker are the founders of Glo, an innovative technology company based in Starkville, where the two attended Mississippi State University. The pair recently signed a licensing agreement with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, to produce an imaginative toy that brightens play and bath time for children.
As budding entrepreneurs in MSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach, the duo was working on a senior project when they hit on an innovative technology that generates light when mixed with liquid. They leveraged the discovery to create colorful cubes that, when dropped in drinks, light up in bright party colors.
Neither could have predicted that the company they founded to manufacture and market the cubes to restaurants, venues and other event-driven outlets would quickly take them in a very different direction. Today, Glo is a premier contributor to a robust children’s market focused on encouraging imaginative learning and celebrating the wonder of discovery.
The pivot came from customer feedback from an appreciative mom, who used the cubes to create a soothing and happy environment for bath time for her autistic child. Realizing an opportunity to create a viable product while also making a difference in families’ lives, Walker and Barker repurposed the cube technology into a line of light-up bath toys called Glo Pals that inspire imaginative learning and sensory play.
As Gold Award winner in the 2020 Mom’s Choice Awards, Glo Pals now account for ninety percent of Glo’s rocketing sales. Glo contributes a portion of profits to the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children, a part of Children’s of Mississippi in Jackson, Miss.
“The idea that we could base our business on helping brighten the lives of young families, including those affected by autism, is inspirational to us,” said Barker. “We want to do more than just build a successful company; we want to make our community and our world a better place.”
The colorful Glo Pals characters and their backstory caught the attention of Sesame Workshop, ultimately opening the door for Glo to create a character based on Julia, a recently introduced Sesame Street character with autism.
Sesame Workshop’s “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children” initiative offers families free tools and tips to manage common challenges, simplify everyday activities and build a community of support. This April, in celebration of National Autism Awareness Month, Glo Pals will introduce Julia and Elmo to its offering.
“We’re excited to be partnering with Glo, an innovative, inspiring young company whose mission aligns with Sesame Workshop’s in helping kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder,” said Gabriela Arenas, Sesame Workshop’s Vice President of Licensing, North America.
“Working with the folks at Sesame Workshop has been a remarkable experience for us, both professionally and personally,” said Barker. “Everything about the way they work reflects the tenets we all tie to Sesame Street: friendly, helpful, caring, inspiring, educational, and fun. I know Glo will be a better company for experiencing these qualities demonstrated in business.”
At a time when Mississippi is suffering from dramatic exodus of its college graduates from the state, a phenomenon dubbed “brain drain,” Glo and its twenty employees who help design, package, promote and ship Glo products around the world are currently moving into an historical building the company is renovating into a $1.2 million office space on Main Street in downtown Starkville—the old Rex Theater. The company’s expanded business footprint more deeply roots Glo in its home state.
“So many bright, ambitious young people feel they have to leave Mississippi to realize their dreams,” said Walker, “but we believe Mississippi provides a perfect environment for us to succeed in all aspects of our lives and business. Not only are we contributing to our local economy through tax payments, employment and community service, we are also helping preserve a local landmark. Plus, we have the advantage of Mississippi’s small-town network of support, which comes from both family and friends and the business community. We wouldn’t want to be growing Glo anywhere else.”
Based in Starkville, Miss., Glo designs and manufactures products that spark imagination by intersecting light, liquid and learning. Since inception in 2015, the company has sold more than three million products to customers in nearly forty countries.