We had the good fortune of connecting with John Hinnen and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi John, why did you pursue a creative career?

Because I just had to. Everyone is creative when they have to be. Some of us can’t help it. The ideas just keep coming. That’s how it’s been with me in both my young and older creative careers.

I was a head strong, and basically naive, creative kid out of design school in my twenties. I couldn’t find a job that fit, so I just started making things and selling them. Novelties and educational products were my concentration. I got my first patent at twenty-six. I made appointments and met people and attended national conventions… all things with which I was a bit uncomfortable. But I had to take risks because I was selling my own creations. My products got as far as Marshall Field’s in Chicago and were nationally recognized. It was what I had to do. And, as the story goes, I almost made it.

Then my wife Nancy and I took a trip to Hawaii and came back expecting our first child! I did the responsible thing and got a “normal” job with pay and benefits and all, out of necessity. And I stayed at it for 26 years. The job wasn’t creative, or at least I didn’t feel creatively fulfilled there. But I did fill a dozen sketchbooks during all that time with ideas that just kept coming.

Now I’m fortunate to be in my second entrepreneurial act, as a toy and game designer, and a grandpa of five! As the owner and founder of Sundawg Design, I am still as inventive as ever, and a bit wiser. Our mission is to create joy through play. And I’m still in pursuit of those great ideas.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?

I just work at trying to come up with things that will make people happy. That is both fulfilling and exciting. From sketch, to model, to testing, to product, to patent, to market takes time and perseverance.

One of our current product efforts is marketing a 3-in-1 throwing toy, the “Bandit Ball”. We have fun exploring opportunities for sales and outreach with this product. It’s great for identification, as you can brand the ball’s wristband. The challenge is finding new markets, accounts, and people who appreciate the potential.

Although I’m a seasoned entrepreneur, a couple of my product ideas were birthed in my 20’s. That’s a bit unusual. I suppose it attests to a good idea that stands the test of time. We focus on kinesthetic toys and games which aren’t technology related, so their play value stays important through the changing times. 

What I’ve learned over the years is that it takes reaching out to people with different gifts and talents to be successful. Mentors, collaborators and supporters of all kinds can be key in finding success… no matter what the venture.

And I can now mention our “kayak project”, as we have a patent pending. It’s a novel storage system, born out of necessity when we ordered a double kayak during the pandemic. It arrived after months and months, and was huge! The craft is great in the water, but what do you do with it on land? We found a solution, and hope to find a market for our concept!

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?We live in Peoria, a beautiful town in the Midwest, on the Illinois River about 150 miles south of Chicago. While it’s not a big metropolis, we are blessed with many features of larger cities. We have numerous favorite spots, from Teddy Roosevelt’s famously coined “World’s Most Beautiful Drive” to exploring 60 miles of hiking and biking trails within Illinois’ oldest and largest park district. We have Bradley University and minor league sports teams. There are many opportunities to enjoy the arts, as well as great recreation along the river.

There’s also a fresh and passionate movement in entrepreneurial endeavors. New restaurants and craft bars have been founded, and all are glad for the opening up after Covid. Our town got its start as a prominent maker of spirits. Distilleries lined the river in the 1900’s. Today, the new Distillery Labs are aptly named as the epicenter of Greater Peoria’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’m very appreciative of the local entrepreneurial movements in my hometown. The Illinois Small Business Development Center and 1 Million Cups/pia are two of several organizations which help and mentor entrepreneurs and people with some kind of spark to do something better.

My Shoutout, however, has to go to my faith and my family. My wife, when she was a kindergarten teacher and my girlfriend, asked me to help design and create an interactive play environment for her students. So, way back when, together we designed and marketed a unique learning center for young children. She has been an encourager and shoulder to lean on through thick and thin, and remains steadfast in her support of my creative efforts.

Our three children, and grandchildren as well, have listened to, tested and made suggestions for many product concepts over the years. Our grandkids serve as great champions for our new ideas, always willing to demonstrate current protypes and give honest feedback!

My story is just one of millions. There are so many dreamers out there, young and older, with great ideas and inspirations. Having community, friends and family to be there for the highs and lows helps so much to make it all worthwhile. Hold on to your dreams. Pursue them…and never give up!

Website: @banditball.com and @sundawgdesign.com

Instagram: @thebanditball and @sundawgdesign

Linkedin: @JohnHinnen

Twitter: @thebanditball

Facebook: @theBanditBallProject and @SundawgDesign

Youtube: The Bandit Ball Channel

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