One of Kansas City’s most tenacious founders is in the midst of an intensive, six-month accelerator aimed at bringing her fashion tech startup to revenue without decreasing her ownership stake in the company.
“Follow-on investment is nice, but you don’t have a company without revenue,” said Carlanda McKinney, founder and CEO of Bodify. “For me, that includes building out our shopper waitlist, a user base, bringing on retail partners — so the process of getting to revenue will mean knocking down a lot of dominoes by the end of the year.”
ACT Tulsa this week announced its inaugural, nine-member cohort, which includes Bodify — a Kansas City-built, web-based platform that matches online shoppers with the brands that best fit their bodies, then uses computer vision and artificial intelligence to advise what size the individual customer should purchase with each brand.
The Tulsa-based accelerator — which focuses on “raising the equity bar” for Black and Brown founders, organizers said — includes in-person coursework, mentorship and advisors, as well as a $70,000 investment in each company.
“It’s non-equity, non-dilutive, but it is repayable at a certain revenue point for the startup,” McKinney explained. “It’s also non-recourse though, so it’s a very honor system driven idea that once you ‘make it,’ you pay it back so the accelerator can help other startups do the same thing.”
Click here to learn more about ACT Tulsa, a partnership between ACT House and i2E.
The current ACT Tulsa cohort also includes Kansas City-founded edtech startup Boddle, which relocated to Tulsa in summer 2020 to take advantage of funding opportunities from Tulsa-based Atento Capital.
“A lot of us are high-growth tech startups, but there are also a few companies that are not tech based, but have huge growth potential,” said McKinney. “So the accelerator is being really inclusive in the types of companies that they’re trying to help get off the ground. Whether you’re a tech startup, a brick and mortar, whether you’re selling a particular product — many of the considerations are the same; you have to understand your market, your end user.”
The accelerator investment has allowed McKinney to take a big leap, she said: going full-time with Bodify — a first-quarter 2021 Digital Sandbox KC recipient — as well as putting the serial entrepreneur in a new professional head space.
“We eventually have to switch from ‘I’m the founder of a startup’ to ‘I’m the CEO of a company’ because those are two totally different mindsets,” she said. “A lot of us don’t realize when you’re launching a startup, there are certain things you don’t have to worry about — versus when you’re the CEO of a company … there’s nothing you don’t worry about.”
i2E — one of the key partners behind ACT Tulsa — focuses on providing business expertise and funding to hundreds of emerging small businesses in Oklahoma. While members of the inaugural cohort include companies as far flung as Kansas City, Chicago and Atlanta, the i2E mission is billed as an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model.
A four-hour drive for McKinney, Tulsa reminds the Kansas City founder of her hometown — 10 years ago when the startup community’s programming was just coming online and new energy was high, she said.
“They also have this beautiful museum, the Philbrook, a wonderful food scene, a great art scene; it’s just a really great town,” McKinney said. “And as more things come online as the city grows, I think we’ll be hearing more and more about it.”
Joining ACT Tulsa already may have unlocked new funding for Bodify beyond the accelerator, she teased, noting the potential for expanded opportunities could extend her stay in the Oklahoma city beyond 2021.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.