Five emerging startups are the latest to benefit from Digital Sandbox KC’s support — investment and resources that have led to more than $200 million in follow-on funding in less than 10 years for Sandbox companies.
“Without this funding, it would have taken us much longer, as the whole project is currently being bootstrapped,” said Dr. Brandy Archie, co-founder of AskSAMIE, one of the startups newly backed by Sandbox’s proof-of-concept project funding program. “I’m so grateful to have not only the financial backing but also the access to resources that will help us go to market successfully.”
Sandbox companies leverage project funding to build their prototype, test the market, develop the user experience, roll out an MVP (minimal viable product) and more.
Digital Sandbox KC’s funding will allow AskSAMIE, a tech product by Accessible Living, to get the first version of its app completed and out to the public for use “just as quickly as it can get built,” Archie added.
The five startups selected for Sandbox’s second-quarter 2022 application cycle are each expected to receive $20,000 each in project funding. Two of the companies are further supported through Comeback KC Ventures, an EDA-funded partnership between the Technology Venture Studio (of which Digital Sandbox KC is a program) and KC Digital Drive. The other three Sandbox companies represent digital solutions around accessibility, business intelligence and virtual reality.
Newly funded startups include:
- AskSAMIE by AccessAble Living (Brandy Archie), Kansas City, Missouri — Accessibility should be everywhere, so the AskSAMIE team is building a web app that guides family caregivers and health care teams through simple but clinically powerful questions to help them order the right adaptive equipment specific to each older adult’s physical and environmental needs so they can live at home safely.
- DeskSides (Blish Mize Connor), Shawnee Mission — DeskSides will be a first-of-its-kind public relations disintermediation platform. This digital platform — costing per year what a PR agency costs per month — will streamline a stale process so brands and journalists can harmoniously conduct PR without the publicist.
- Empower Fresh (Anthony Totta), Independence — Empower Fresh (eFresh), created by produce experts for produce professionals, is a cloud-based solution for produce department management to protect margins, reduce shrink and maximize produce sales. Empower Fresh provides customized business intelligence delivered directly into the hands of produce managers in a practical, easy-to-use format. The ideal user is the custodian of profit margins, waste management and competitive positioning. The eFresh solution delivers FreshXperts coaching and educational tips for the food handlers at store and corporate levels. It is a practical tool promising to deliver immediate return on investment while simultaneously keeping produce managers competitive in their marketplace.
- Phog Labs (James Flexman), Overland Park — Phog Labs is building unique, sports-driven games for virtual-reality platforms that will give customers fast-paced workouts from their own home. Phog Labs’ first game, “Wallball,” is best described as “3D Pong” and will be released on the Meta Quest VR platform later in 2022.
- Venues Made Simple (Jessie and Jeff Pavalone), Spring Hill — Venues Made Simple is innovating the wedding industry by creating an online platform that simplifies how engaged couples find and book venues. This uniquely designed client relationship management tool will better help venues connect with brides and grooms, and the platform’s fully transparent process will simplify the lives of venues and engaged couples.
DeskSides and Venues Made Simple are both innovations sparked in response to the pandemic and are the two additionally supported by Comeback KC Ventures.
Digital Sandbox KC is now accepting new applications for its third-quarter 2022 cycle and presentations. Click here for more information and to submit an idea.
Since the program’s inception in 2013, Digital Sandbox KC has had an immense impact on its funded companies, Sandbox leaders said. With a total of more than $3 million in proof-of-concept project funding across 170 KC-area startups, Sandbox companies have gone on to raise nearly $200 million in follow-on funding.
In fact, 33 Sandbox companies have raised more than $1 million in follow-on funding, and 27 have achieved more than $1 million in sales, as outlined in the organization’s latest report.
Click here to read the 2022 Digital Sandbox KC Impact report.
“For any fund, these are significant metrics of success because they illustrate how Digital Sandbox KC provides critical, just-in-time support to help these innovations gain traction, move to market and pursue additional investment,” said Jill Meyer, senior director of Technology Venture Studio, which houses early-stage tech support and programs Digital Sandbox KC, Whiteboard 2 Boardroom and KCInvestED.
The Sandbox is one of very few early-stage funds in the Kansas City metro, funding which helps regional innovation survive the “Valley of Death” phase, where capital is scarce, risk is high and many technologies fail. It’s a precarious phase for startups, for investors—and for the promise of regional innovation, program leaders detailed.
“For our innovators, Sandbox funds are a critical investment at a critical time in their startup journey,” Meyer said.
The stories of successful alums of the program — and of the line-of-sight the Sandbox has provided to early-stage innovation for eight years — are stacking up, Meyer added.
Riddhiman Das and Greg Storm went on to raise a $24 million round for their company, TripleBlind. Nomi Smith and Luke Landau of PMI Rate Pro later joined Pipeline Entrepreneurs and Techstars as they built their multimillion-dollar company. Stuart Ludlow and Dave Hulsen of RFP360 saw the company they founded a decade ago exit in 2021.
“Digital Sandbox KC was really helpful. They provided some funds for us to do some early infrastructure work that was a key pillar,” said Hulsen, who co-founded the Leawood-based RFP360.
RFP360 leveraged early Sandbox support in 2014 to grow the company’s software solution, raise $12 million in follow-on funding and land a lucrative acquisition.
Click here to read more about RFP360’s exit.
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.