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Directors of Luke’s Toy Factory, Triback Sports and Unger Global to speak at forum: Family-owned Connecticut firms featured at WCSU panel

DANBURY, CONN. — Three Connecticut manufacturers that have achieved entrepreneurial success under boldly imaginative and innovative family ownerships will be featured in an Entrepreneurial Arc panel discussion to be held on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, at Western Connecticut State University.

Participants in the Entrepreneurial Arc panel, presented as part of the WCSU series of programs showcasing local entrepreneurs, will include Luke and Jim Barber, the son and father who own Luke’s Toy Factory, of Danbury; Edwin Salazar, founder of Triback Sports, of New Milford, and his daughter Isabella; and Dane Unger, a director of Unger Global, of Bridgeport, in partnership with his brothers Jan and Mark.

The forum will be at 6 p.m. in Room 218 of the Classroom Building on the university’s Westside campus, 43 Lake Ave. Extension in Danbury. Admission will be free and the public is invited to attend. Co-sponsors for the event include the Center for Entrepreneurship, Research, Innovation and Creativity (E.R.I.C.@THEGARAGE), the Ancell School of Business and the Macricostas Entrepreneurial Endowment, all at WCSU; the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce; and the Danbury Hackerspace.

Dr. Pauline Assenza, associate professor of Management and coordinator of the Entrepreneurial Arc program, observed that the panel discussion will focus on issues confronted by family-owned businesses as well as supply-chain and sourcing challenges that American manufacturers face in today’s global marketplace.

“Family businesses represent 80 to 90 percent of all business in North America,” Assenza remarked. “Evidence suggests that family businesses are a powerful force for success because of the values that are passed down, and the innovation that occurs when different generations work together to find new ways of tackling problems. This innovative mindset can be key to overcoming the sourcing, supply chain and sustainability issues that are becoming important to consumers worldwide. The three businesses represented on our panel are in various stages of development, yet they all have achieved important milestones and have a positive story to tell.”

A 2012 Rutgers University graduate who entered a weak post-recession job market, Luke Barber chose to turn his passion for making things into a profession as the designer of paint-free toy trucks suitable for the preschool and early education markets. He received encouragement in his quest from his father Jim, an advertising photographer who sensed the market opportunity for more U.S.-made, child-safe products in the toy market in the wake of the 2007 lead-paint recall for Thomas the Tank Engine toys manufactured in China. Together they launched a Kickstarter campaign to launch Luke’s Toy Factory in Danbury in 2014.

The company specializes in the use of virgin polypropylene and sawdust from recycled maple wood scraps to create a material that can be molded into the interchangeable parts that make up a diverse line of toy trucks. The manufacturing supply chain is thoroughly American — wood plastic composite manufacture in Michigan, 3-D prototype printing in Danbury, steel mold casting in Massachusetts, injection molding in Southington, and final assembly and shipping at the Danbury home site. The process has enabled Luke’s Toy Factory to produce paint-free toys with the appearance and feel of handcrafted wooden goods at a fraction of the cost.

The company has enjoyed success in marketing its products to small toy stores and early education programs, with future plans in 2019 to introduce sale of its educational toy line in Europe through a Belgian distributor. The firm’s commitment to a “Made in America” process has reaped benefits as well, Assenza said. “Companies have realized that not only are labor and shipping costs rising for overseas production, but there is a direct benefit in positive perception of a company’s image when manufacturing jobs are returned to the United States,” she noted.

Edwin Salazar founded Triback Sports with a clear vision to establish a niche market in the manufacture of custom-designed soccer wear for adult and youth players, seizing opportunity in the rapidly growing popularity of the sport in the United States. Together with his daughter Isabella, a management major in the WCSU Ancell School of Business, he has created a thriving business in high-quality soccer jerseys, shirts, shorts and accessories that are customized through embroidery, printing, dye sublimation and other processes. Triback’s extensive technical capacities to customize garments and accessories at its factory in New Milford enable the firm to produce goods to the customer’s order, whether for individuals seeking the jersey of their favorite clubs or for entire teams who can be outfitted with a full kit including team and sponsor logos.

The Salazars have drawn upon the family’s close connection over the past two decades with a manufacturer in Colombia, where Triback sources its fabric and produces its clothing. Assenza observed that soccer’s dominance as a national sport in the South American nation provides a competitive edge for Triback in design and development of apparel for this expanding market in the United States. “This should become a lucrative market for the Salazars, especially as young people are now selecting soccer as often as they pick basketball as their favorite choice for local team play,” she said.

Dane Unger’s unique journey to entrepreneurial success began as a classically trained musician and band leader in California and as a chemical sales representative before moving to Connecticut in 1985 to join Unger Global. The family-owned company, founded in Germany in 1964 by his father Henry and now headquartered in Bridgeport with branch offices in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and China, specializes in manufacture of quality cleaning tools designed to improve worker efficiency and safety while providing healthier and environmentally sustainable building sanitation for corporate, institutional and consumer clients. Its corporate mission is reflected in its platinum sponsorship of the Healthy Schools Campaign, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote “green clean schools” across the United States.

Currently a director of Unger Global, Dane’s record of accomplishment includes his leadership as president of Unger Industrial in the development and implementation of the firm’s consumer business strategy, opening the way to marketing and distribution of its consumer product line at Williams Sonoma, Home Depot, Ace Hardware and other major retailers. Most recently, he has directed the global research and development divisions in the United States and Germany and overseen the setup of a new engineering group in China. He also maintains strong engagement with the university and Danbury area communities as a member of the WCSU Foundation Board of Directors; the Center for Compassion, Creativity and Innovation at WCSU; and the Wooster School Board of Trustees.

“Dane is truly a champion of education,” Assenza remarked. “I first met Dane at the Danbury Hackerspace, where he was delighted to find a community of makers including Luke Barber supporting each other while innovating and learning. Dane represents an enduring innovation mindset, always curious and look for opportunities both to improve and to give back.”

For more information about the panel discussion, contact Assenza at or the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.



Western Connecticut State University changes lives by providing all students with a high-quality education that fosters their growth as individuals, scholars, professionals and leaders in a global society. Our vision: To be widely recognized as a premier public university with outstanding teachers and scholars who prepare students to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.