Marine spouse April Mitchell has a message for everyone — and fellow mothers in particular: don’t discount the power of your creative ideas, because they can turn into a fulfilling enterprise.
The mother of four and owner of 4A’s Creations, LLC, has invented and licensed more than a dozen products, including four currently on the market: a game, a toy, a kitchen tool and a household item. Two more of her games will be available later in the fall.
She’s also licensed three games and a party industry product that will be available for purchase in 2024, and is in negotiations for additional products. She currently holds two patents, more than a dozen licenses, and has invented or designed hundreds of products.
The name of her company is a reference to her children: Anthony, 18, Alexander, 17, Abraham, 15, and Annabelle, 13. Her husband, Tony Mitchell, served nearly 27 years in the Marine Corps, including 24 years on active duty, before retiring in May. The family lives in North Carolina.
Ideas come to her in a variety of ways, Mitchell explained.
“Sometimes they will come to me randomly, where I feel like the heavens have parted and the idea was put right in my lap. Usually that’s right after my quiet time or reading the Bible,” she said. “Sometimes I brainstorm or try to go to different places for inspiration. Being in nature really helps. I sit down with a notebook and think of themes. Or I look online to see what’s trending and it sparks something. You just never know what might bring inspiration.”
The Mitchell family loves to play games, both indoors and outdoors, and her husband and children have had a major role in her business. They pre-test her products, appear in pitch videos, and, most importantly, unfailingly encourage her to pursue her dreams, she said.
“I couldn’t do what I do if it weren’t for the support of my family,” she said.
Mitchell grew up in a creative family and worked as a teacher before becoming a mom. In the classroom, she enjoyed creating educational games and other learning tools, and continued that with her children.
“I didn’t consider it or think of it as inventing or designing. I was just solving problems or coming up with something that would be fun for the kids to learn,” she said.
Her official inventor’s journey started about 15 years ago, when she found herself constantly picking up towels off the bathroom floor.
“I thought, ‘There’s got to be other people with the same problem,’ but there wasn’t anything out there,” she said. So, she taught herself to sew and created the Towel Belt, the first product she licensed.
“It was a lot of trial and error, trying to enter contests and getting in front of people,” she recalled.
The company that acquired the Towel Belt license never took it to market, but Mitchell didn’t let that discourage her. She’d learned a lot and then gained additional insight from reading the book “One Simple Idea” by Stephen Key, she said. The result was her first licensed and marketed product: the Right Height adjustable, over-the-door hook, which allows people of various heights and abilities to easily hang items.
Her other products available for purchase are: Hooked on Hoops, a game featuring a basketball hoop with bendable arms to play basketball anywhere; Clueless, a party game for adults that Mitchell co-designed with Wilder Toys and is based on the 1995 movie; the Caterpeeler, a colorful vegetable peeler in the shape of a caterpillar that she co-designed with her son Abraham; BamzBall, an outdoor game where the goal is to put the ball into a hoop; and Formworm, an educational game featuring an 8-sided bendable “worm” used to create shapes according to card instructions.
Mitchell is an advocate of licensing inventions because it makes companies responsible for manufacturing and selling.
“I can stick to creating, which I enjoy the most,” she said.
With licensing, the inventor/designer typically receives royalties amounting to 5% to 10% of the wholesale price.
Mitchell worked for 3 ½ years as a product licensing coach for Stephen Key’s company until she quit in March to focus on her business and her family. She is especially passionate about inspiring children to get into game design, and next year wants to create an online course modeled on a 10-week course she taught to her daughter’s class.
Her advice to would-be inventors is to learn from their successful predecessors, have a clear mindset and maintain a positive attitude. While she was blessed to have the chance to be a stay-at-home mother, becoming an entrepreneur helped her fully realize herself, she said.
“We can often lose sight of who we are,” she said. “I really want to encourage other spouses to find something of their own.”
Becoming an entrepreneur also helped her successfully tackle her depression, which first manifested as a teen and intensified after the birth of her children. Her faith and exercise also played a major role, she added.
Her goal is to become a millionaire, but money is not her driving force. What’s most important to her is helping families have fun, learn new things and solve problems, she said.
“I want to help bring joy to others,” she said.