BEST OF BUSI­NESS

2015 was a big year for Colorado com­pa­nies.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ta­mara Chuang

Ayear ago, not many peo­ple knew what a BB-8was.

Fewer prob­a­bly knew what a Sphero was.

Not any­more, thanks to a mag­i­cal force that man­i­fested it­self as Bob Iger, who brought the two to­gether. As Dis­ney’s CEO, Iger men­tored Boul­der robot-toy maker Sphero to cre­ate a toy based on the spunky, rolling droid fea­tured in “The Force Awak­ens.”

“It­was an in­cred­i­ble happy co­in­ci­dence and lucky tim­ing,” CEO Paul Ber­be­rian said in an in­ter­view as Sphero’s BB-8 pre­pared for its de­but in Septem­ber.

But it’s not like Sphero just built an­other cool StarWars toy.

It built the StarWars toy that dom­i­nated news cov­er­age and hot lists when the movie’s toy ex­trav­a­ganza be­gan in Septem­ber.

This BB-8 sold out every­where. At Sphero’s own store, shop­pers snapped up all 22,000 in stock on the first day. Ama­zon last­week in­cluded it among prod­ucts that were ac­tual hol­i­day best-sell­ers.

Sphero, which changed its name from Or­botix, can’t say ex­actly how­many of its BB-8 toys have sold be­cause of con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments with Dis­ney. But the com­pany did tell Bloomberg that sales of BB-8s in the first month nearly matched Sphero’s sales in all of 2014. (And prior to BB-8, Sphero had sold 500,000 ro­bots since its 2010 in­cep­tion.)

Life is just not the same at Sphero. The com­pany dou­bled its staff this year to more than 100, from 50 late last year — and it has an ad­di­tional 20 job open­ings. Plus, it raised $45 mil­lion in a fund­ing round led by Walt Dis­ney Co.

Sphero may never be able to sep­a­rate it­self from StarWars. And with an army of BB-8s out there that are wait­ing for soft­ware up­dates and new fea­tures from the com­pany’s de­vel­op­ers, it has no plan to.

But the lit­tle toy-robot com­pany that could con­tin­ues to stick to its orig­i­nal mis­sion: Build fun, con­nected toys.

“This year has been trans­for­ma­tional for Sphero on so­many lev­els— from pure growth to prod­uct de­vel­op­ment, Sphero con­tin­ues to ex­pand the realm of what’s pos­si­ble when it comes to ro­bot­ics,” said Claire Tin­dall, a Sphero spokes­woman.

Its lat­est Sphero, the see-through SPRK edi­tion, tar­gets ed­u­ca­tors and kids who want to learn more about how ro­bots and pro­gram­ming work.

“There’s no rule that says learn­ing shouldn’t be fun or that play­ing can’t be valu­able,” the com­pany said at SPRK’s launch. “If there is, we cre­ated SPRK to break it.”

The As­so­ci­ated Press

The BB-8 app-en­abled droid by Sphero, which sells for about $150, is based on a char­ac­ter from “The Force Awak­ens.”

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