This marketing executive left the Silicon Valley tech scene to make toys. Why?

Build & Imagine founder Laurie Peterson at UC Berkeley's SkyDeck start-up accelerator program.

Build & Imagine founder Laurie Peterson at UC Berkeley’s SkyDeck start-up accelerator program.

Laurie Peterson, Founder and CEO of Build & Imagine, is no stranger to the Silicon Valley tech scene. Having lived in the bay area since earning her MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Laurie’s talents and interests led her to several software and hardware startups. Most recently as VP of Marketing for a start-up creating a tactile gaming system called Sifteo Cubes, Laurie advocated for adding girl-friendly games to the product road-map. She believed that getting girls gaming was a path to help them develop comfort with technology, which would ultimately contribute to combating the gender innovation gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). However, there were two consistent hurdles: first, she was the only female on an eight-member leadership team. Second, the industry in general tends to default to content for boys.


Sifteo Cubes gaming system

“I saw firsthand how even really well intentioned men were scared to approach content for girls. They didn’t want to “do it wrong” so the result was we did nothing at all. When I was advocating for games that would appeal to girls (we had a number of titles that leaned heavily “boy”), what the men heard was “shopping” and “pink”, which they were uncomfortable with. I explained that I wasn’t thinking about games for girls based on color coding and stereotypical themes, but rather based on the kinds of play mechanics girls tend to love – collecting, storytelling, social interaction, puzzles, taming chaos, designing, creativity, narrative, etc. I think it takes women at the table to bring this kind of perspective.” —Laurie Peterson, founder of Build &Imagine

Meanwhile, Laurie was hearing from parents that with the rise of tablets and smart phones their interest in tech toys had weaned. What they were really wanted for their kids were tactile enriching classic toys to supplement their screen time. This shift resulted in double digit growth in toy categories such as construction and craft, and a fresh interest in building toys for girls.

The parents’ insights paired with Laurie’s frustration over her team’s paralysis was enough for her to make a big move: after feeling at home in the fast-paced Silicon Valley tech scene for over a decade, Laurie jumped ship to kick start own traditional toy company in 2013. She named it Build & Imagine. Laurie hobbled together a hand-made prototype for Build & Imagine, tested it at the local children’s museum, and just a few months later raised 150% of her goal on Kickstarter. Similar to her interest in developing video games for girls, Laurie believes her magnetic building toys have the promise of helping kids develop foundational STEM skills. The simple act of combining Build & Imagine’s whimsically illustrated magnetic panels to form three-dimensional structures such as a house, a marine rescue center, or a pet portrait studio helps children to develop skills including spatial reasoning, design, and problem-solvingskills that have been proven to set young children up for later success in STEM.


“Most toy companies have been responding to the surge in demand for girls’ construction toys by taking their exact same building toys and turning them pink. I call it ‘pink think’. Rather than color coding, at Build & Imagine we design based on the kinds of play mechanics that girls have historically loved. What we’ve done at Build & imagine is mash together a dollhouse with magnetic building blocks and magnetic dress up dolls. Our Build & Imagine StoryWalls have the imaginative play of a dollhouse with the enrichment of a construction toy. And it turns out, boys love them too!” —Laurie Peterson, founder of Build &Imagine

The positive response provided an energetic boost as Laurie continued to serve as a pioneer in the industry, launching eight play-sets and earning more than 25 industry awards. Last year Laurie was honored with the title Rising Star Toy Inventor of the Year, and now two Build & Imagine play-sets are up for coveted TOTY awards, which is like the Oscar’s for Toys. Malia’s House is a contender for Rookie of the Year, and Marine Rescue Center is going up against heavy hitters including LEGO for Construction Toy of the Year. You can vote for your favorites here:


 “When I won the Rising Star Toy Inventor of Year award, I had the chance to give an acceptance speech in front of the movers and shakers of the major toy companies. I used it as an opportunity to make the case that we must support toy startups, particularly those with female founders, because we’re seeing a lot of the innovation and fresh perspectives on gender and toys being driven by independent companies who have the freedom to think differently. In fact, the last three “Rising Star Toy Inventors of the Year” were female start-up founders. As the saying goes, “you can’t be what you can’t see”. Toys, especially construction toys, have the power to shape our children’s’ skills and views of the world. It’s important to make that an inclusive viewpoint where children have equal opportunity to pursue skills and interests.”—Laurie Peterson, founder of Build &Imagine


Each Build & Imagine play-set consists of magnetic StoryWalls building panels, wooden dress-up characters, and dozens of magnetic accessories to dress the characters and decorate your scene. Young builders combine the whimsically illustrated panels to create a scene all their own. And part of the beauty is that each time you play, you can build a different way. The storytelling possibilities are endless, which is why so many experts and parents alike have professed their love for the Build & Imagine product line, because children can play for hours, recreate scenes, and learn a few skills like spatial reasoning and problem solving along the way.

We asked Laurie if she ever regrets leaving the tech world for the entrepreneurial grind in traditional toys. “Nope!” she insists. “With Build & Imagine, I get to reinvent the rules. To have a real impact, don’t feel that you have to do things the way they have always been done. Toy industry insiders keep advising me that I’m ‘doing it wrong’. But when I see girls building for hours, ‘wrong’ feels pretty right to me.

This holiday, Build & Imagine StoryWalls can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, QVC, specialty toy stores and limited Targets this holiday season. Discover where to buy and learn more about the two Build & Imagine playsets that are finalist for Toy of the Year awards below.


About Malia’s House

b00w8dgzba-mainMalia’s House is an award-winning magnetic dollhouse created by the “Rising Star Toy Inventor of the Year”. Build Malia’s House any way you like—illustrated shapes join magnetically.  Then decorate the house and invent new stories with magnetic accessories that stick to the floors, walls, and dress-up dolls! Easily change things up and create a whole new adventure for endless imaginative play.

Malia’s House is a TOTY finalist and is the winner of Dr. Toy’s Best Classic Award, Parents’ Choice Gold Award, The National Parenting Center Seal of Approval, and PAL’s Top Ten Toys of 2014.



About Marine Rescue Center

rescue_package_top_web_largeYoung minds will develop foundational STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) skills with this magnetic building + storytelling playset that bridges left and right brain play. Construct the magnetic panels into a building or boat, then take the included doll Thea on a sea worthy adventure to rescue and rehabilitate her marine animal friends. The Marine Rescue Center works with other Build & Imagine play-sets too, so you can grow your story alongside your child’s budding building skills.

Marine Rescue Center is a TOTY finalist and was awarded with Creative Child Magazine’s Building Toy of the Year, The National Parenting Center Seal of Approval, Parents’ Choice Gold Award, Mr. Dad’s Seal of Approval, PAL Language Learning Award, and was featured by the Toy Industry Association as a Top Toy Trend of 2015.




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