Biba wants you to spend more time with your smartphone—this time at your neighborhood playground. The company merges digital and real-world fun in a way that modernizes playground structures that haven’t changed much in the past 100 years.
Matt Toner, Biba’s CEO, read the research showing that children were sacrificing outdoor play time for screen time, but he also knew from personal experience just how difficult it can be to enforce a parental ban on touchscreen devices. He and his team devised an elegant way to harness that fixation into a healthy channel.
Today, more than 3,600 Biba-powered playgrounds can be found in virtually every area of the world from northern Canada to the Middle East to the South Pacific. These playgrounds have easyto- install, scannable markers that don’t require electricity or Wi-Fi. Once families download any Biba game, they are ready to play. Scanning the Biba tags as part of the playground fun enhances the games with augmented reality moments and new creative challenges. Caregivers are an integral part of the fun, directing children through tasks and adventures while cheering them on. The clever concept landed Biba the No. 9 spot in Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies category.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGES
But, even before the idea got off the ground, the Vancouver-based company had to overcome some resistance. Biba challenged how playground manufacturers thought about video games. The new concept also changed how families interact on and with the playground. And convincing parents that the key to getting their kids to play more was to download yet another app was initially a tough sell.
However, the Pokémon Go craze had put location-based games on the map, which helped manufacturers and parents understand the concept. But, unlike the solitary nature of Pokémon Go, Biba encourages co-play with parents and group play with friends.
“Other kids will start to flock over when they see the games being played, because they just know that smartphones are fun,” Toner says. “So, we made it very easy to add another kid in mid-stride and share it with one, two, three, or four friends.”
Biba’s team showed playground manufacturers how apps can get children re-engaged with their local playground. Parents and caregivers love the fact that they can play with their children instead of fighting over screen time. And, for the first time, participating municipalities can access data-driven insights about activity trends in their community.
MAKING A BIG PLAY
The vision is big, but Toner is enthusiastic. He says that being ready to “shake things up” internally and externally has been a key to the company’s success. Next, the lean team of 25 employees is looking at creating networking events where kids all over the world can compete in Biba-powered, Olympic-style games. Such creative ideas come easily in a city like Vancouver, which is notoriously health-minded, family-oriented, and tech-friendly.
“Inside our studio, we try to be an orchestra of bass players. We don’t want any rock stars, no guitar solos, no divas. We want the company to be more like a conversation: equal, open, improvisational.” he says. “The fact that a small startup like ours is able to have this sort of an impact on longstanding, multinational companies is a testament to the power of our approach and our ideas. Thankfully, we have had the staying power to bring those ideas to life.”