Spotlight on Biba

Describe your company and its product.

Biba, named one of Fast Company magazine’s Most Innovative Companies of 2019, is getting kids off the couch and back outside with imaginative, inclusive, physical, and digital play. Worldwide, more than 3,800 sites in 1,000 communities of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions have been fitted with Biba’s smart playground system, with hundreds more added each month.

What year did your company start?

2014

Which city (or cities) are you located?

Vancouver, BC

Describe your company culture in three words.

  • Innovative
  • Adaptable
  • Playful

How do you celebrate company or employee wins?

We move at a pretty fast pace, with some pretty sharp pivots. So, rather than bigger set piece celebrations, we tend to maintain a steady positive buzz. There also may be doughnuts involved.

What is the problem that you are trying to solve?

Playgrounds today have undergone few changes from those that you might have seen 100 years ago… but kids are certainly quite different! By using the parent’s smartphone to add a fun, augmented reality twist to traditional play structures, we are taking on the twin problems of youth sedentariness and screen obsession. The result is that families are playing together longer, harder and more often, with all the attendant health and community benefits.

What is your biggest milestone to date?

In 2019, Biba was named as one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, landing at #9 on the list of most innovative gaming companies in the world: that’s a big deal for a small Vancouver studio. It wouldn’t have been possible without our multi-year exclusive partnership with the world’s largest playground manufacturer, PlayPower Inc.

What is your biggest challenge?

We live in a time where people have begun to view technology as more likely to be the problem than the solution: this is certainly when talking about children and their activities. Fortunately, younger parents are looking increasingly to find meaningful and ethical solutions to family challenges. We fit that description quite nicely.

What is your motto?

Healthy kids, healthy communities

How are you making an impact?

Biba’s playground innovation is changing the ways kids and communities come together from Singapore to Saskatoon, Detroit to Dublin, and Santiago to St. John’s. Biba is showing playground manufacturers and community stakeholders how apps can get children re-engaged with their local playgrounds. Parents and caregivers are embracing the fact that they can play with their children instead of fighting over screen time.

What is your hope for the future of tech in BC?

BC companies can (and do) compete on the world stage, but we can also get a little complacent. Better connections with Seattle and Silicon Valley will help ensure that we know when we’ve hit our stride, and when we still have some work to do.

Lightning Round with Matt Toner, CEO of Biba

What excites you about your job?

Besides the daily exercise of raw, unadulterated power? Our SodaStream is pretty awesome.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

Raising early-stage in Vancouver is just plain hard, no question – especially when compared to Silicon Valley, Seattle, New York, etc. I’ve been lucky to build up strong relationships with a small group of seed-level investors.

If you can give advice to your 20-year-old self, what would you say?

That haircut just isn’t working. 

What are your pet peeves?

My dog Peeves is part doodle and all cuddles! Thanks for asking!

Words of wisdom to other tech CEOs or founders?

You can be based in BC, but you need to be ready to travel. Spending meaningful amounts of time in important markets is essential.

Favourite city you visited?

Austin, TX

What is your formula for success?

There is this assumption that startups will either blaze a trail to glory in 18 months or flame out completely. While that might be true for the Valley, we need to think differently in BC – unicorns, may be pretty, but rhinos can make more damage and stay in it for the long haul. Be a rhino.

Name one book that everyone should read.

The Art of the Start by Guy Kawaski.

How do you decompress?

Ascend from the maximum dive depth slowly, with periodic stops to allow inert gases to disperse until they reach normal surface levels. If you’ve got the money, splash on your own hyperbaric chamber!

Favourite movie?

Memento by Christopher Nolan