In 1988, Melissa Bernstein and her then-boyfriend (now husband) pooled their savings to launch Melissa & Doug, an educational toy company that focused on updating classic games. Today, Melissa & Doug is an industry leader, selling products in such retail giants as Toys “R” Us, FAO Schwarz and Learning Express, and acquiring other, smaller toy companies along the way. The company offers nearly 2,000 products and produces approximately 200 new items annually.
In the more than two decades since the company was launched, the Bernsteins have also added an in-house focus group—their six children (the oldest, son Brendan, is a member of the Duke Class of 2015). Bernstein makes sure any new toy the company is considering to produce first gets the green light from her children.
Bernstein is an obsessed Duke basketball fan who never missed a home game while she was a student. She stays involved with Duke through the annual Start-up Challenge competition for student entrepreneurs and as part of an Innovation & Entrepreneurship Task Force.