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Q&A: Northern Ireland inventor Ciaran Larkin talks top secret work with US company Hasbro

Two years ago Northern Ireland inventor and enteprenuer Ciaran Larkin pitched his creative ideas to a room full of top executives at a workshop in England - he was immediately snapped up by American company Hasbro.

Since then Ciaran has been splitting his time between his workshop in Belfast and the US, working on top secret projects for the legendary company and more.

The ideas man has been speaking to the Belfast Telegraph about life as an inventor and his work in the US.

Inventing is an unusual career path to follow - can you tell us a little about what your day to day involves?

At the minute I’m working on a new product for a client in America. I specialise in movie-inspired creations so a lot of what I do is top secret, and I find the process of getting an idea from my head into a real-life model incredibly exciting. I work very unconventional hours – often staying up late in the workshop building, then pitching concepts via Skype.

People might be surprised at how I work - rather than relying on computers, I build my masterpieces the old-fashioned way using hand tools such as Dremels. I often become so absorbed in a project that I will work through the night, and for days at a time to realise one single concept. This is important to me – I want to stay true my passion and invention as I interpret it.”

What motivated you to pursue a career as an inventor?

All I knew from an early age was that I loved to make things – but I never knew until much later in life that this was something that I could turn into a career. I built things that I wanted, whether it was a cool prop or costume from a favourite movie, or a one-of-a-kind gift for a family member.

As the years went on I found I was getting faster and better at this process of getting product ideas out of my head and into physical things, but I still didn’t know how to take what I do and make a living from it.

Even through school and university there was no clear path for someone like me who just likes making stuff, and equally no job that I could find that suited my unique talent, so it was clear that I would have to break the mould and do my own thing.”

Your career in inventing took off because of your entrepreneurial spirit and your brave move to trust your talent. Did you know your passion for invention would take you here?

I always believed in what I was doing, and knew it would one day take me where I wanted to be – I just never quite knew along the way where that was. Sometimes you have to just blindly trust your instinct, and let your passion about what you do and determination to keep going guide you to the next destination, even if you don’t know where it is. 

Despite graduating with a degree in Electronic Engineering from Queen’s, I struggled with direction. I was an engineer on paper, but an inventor at heart. I could make cool things and I had a bucket load of ideas, but there wasn’t a clear career path for me to follow.

I didn’t know of anyone locally that I could call on for advice and despite searching, I couldn’t find a role that allowed me to apply both my creativity and technical knowledge. I worked every type of job from 9-to-5 offices to retail nightshift, using any spare time I had to work with scrap materials to create side projects, just for fun, to keep my skills alive. But soon, just for fun wasn’t enough and I craved more.

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Ciaran Larkin

In 2011, I mustered all my entrepreneurial spirit and decided to turn my passion for invention into a business finally creating for myself, a career I loved. Back then, making props, costumes and personalised gift items as commissions were all in a day’s work. Most would have thought I was living the dream but something still wasn’t right – putting all that time into commission work meant my big ideas and prototypes were sitting on the shelves collecting dust.

I trusted my vision and in another brave move I ended my commission work in 2015, choosing the far riskier option of finding a market for my own inventions. Immediately, I knew it was the right thing to do, I was finally able to invent what I wanted, and pitch to who I wanted.”

What has been your career highlight to date?

In 2015, I attended The Inventor’s Workshop in England where I pitched my invention ideas to a room full of top executives. I still can barely believe it but I was snapped up by American company, Hasbro.

That one pitch essentially changed my life and since then, I have been splitting my time between my home in Belfast and the US working on top secret projects for the legendary company. It’s hard to believe that if I hadn’t decided to go out on my own, I wouldn’t be here. It highlights how important it is to discover your passion and follow it.

It can’t have been easy for my parents as I went about my creative business in our family home – there is no “tidy” way to do the work that I do so for years I had to seek forgiveness rather than ask permission with a lot of my more industrial work. I’d be locked in my room or in the garage for days leaving a trail of mess or spraypaint in my wake. All of those experiences added up to where I am now, so it’s satisfying that they see now how it was all for a purpose.”

What skills do you need to make it as an inventor?

To actually “make it” as an inventor is more challenging than ever right now. The days of coming up with merely a rough sketch/idea and taking it to a big company are over. You need to find a way to build the thing that you are pitching, no matter how primitive the model. My years of practical work have put me in the position that I can physically build and deliver models of the very things that I am talking about, and that skill alone really set me apart when it came to my first pitch.

More important than the practical skills though are passion, determination and self-belief. It’s not an easy industry to succeed in so you have to have a vision and trust it. You need to understand the market – where it is and who within it you need to get in-front of. Knocking on doors time and time again isn’t easy but your passion is what keeps you going.”

This month, you’re collaborating with Bushmills Irish Whiskey as part of the #AnswerTheCall campaign. What can we expect from this collaboration?

Yes, an incredible opportunity to work with a local brand that shares the same unwavering spirit as I do.

The #AnswerTheCall series is a really authentic fit – it celebrates the fearless stories of local creators, thinkers and entrepreneurs. My collaboration sees me partner with Bushmills Irish Whiskey to host ‘Whiskey and Invention’ at The Menagerie, Belfast on September 28th.

Attendees will have the opportunity to put their creative genius to use in an invention workshop where using items like scrap metal, old whiskey bottles, ice buckets and they’ll each create an impressive take-home item. I believe there will be some Black Bush on offer too.

This is the first time I’ll host an event of this kind – not only will I have the chance to share my journey in entrepreneurialism, I’ll also share an up-close and personal insight into what I do every day with a local, engaged audience so it’s pretty cool.”

To those who may have a great business idea or talent, but have yet to take the plunge and follow their passion to answer the call, what advice would you give?

People will try to push you down a conventional path but always trust yourself over everything else. If you want to do something unique and a bit different to the norm, absolutely do it but know that your ideas alone aren’t enough. Be prepared to work hard.

When you feel like you can’t go on anymore, keep going. That’s what makes the difference between making it and feeling like you have to give up.

  • To register to be in with a chance to attend ‘Whiskey and Invention’ on September 28th, visit answerthecall.co.uk.

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