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hosted by: Pasadena City College SBDC

Olio Toys

Jenny Kan and Valariu Balaban

Jenny Kan and Valariu Balaban have sold baskets of dog toys on Etsy, but they haven’t gotten much traction. Meanwhile, they were frustrated with existing toys, which their dog ignored, so they invented their own food dispensing toy, which they call The Embarker.

Their toy is “sphericon” shaped: It both rolls like a sphere and rocks back and forth like a cone. Together these motions cause it to weave around as it rolls on the ground in a pattern that is more challenging for a dog to follow than a regular ball. It fulfills a dog’s natural hunting and foraging instincts. The toy has another unique feature among food dispensing balls. Its unique design makes it easier for the human to fill with food, but the food doesn’t fall out immediately.


Kan and Balaban participated in the Dream Fund startup training program for new entrepreneurs. To receive the Dream Fund grant, they needed to submit a business plan.

They also wanted to level up their web and social media game because they plan to sell completely through online channels.


Kan participated in a social media workshop with PCC SBDC advisor Deborah Deras that she found to be really helpful. An example of one tip that was memorable: The posts that do really well entertain and inform at the same time.

The Olio team also received assistance with their website from advisor Alex Vasquez. He helped them get payment features set up on Shopify. He also went over keyword and competitor research, and they discussed a strategy to focus their content.


Through the process of developing a business plan with Lizzy Okoro, their SBDC Dream Fund advisor, they discovered that they really wanted to start a full-fledged business, Olio Toys, with a whole line of additional toys after The Embarker.

On the basis of that business plan, they received a Dream Fund grant of $5,000, which they have used to pay for the injection mold for their first toy design.

Their website now ranks first among Google search results. They’ve added demonstration videos and cute dog photos, and they continue to refine their messaging and collect subscribers as they wait for their manufacturer to produce the first run of The Embarker.

“We’re not even business yet, and they’ve already helped us in so many ways. I’m really grateful,” Jenny says.

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