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DIGITAL SANDBOX KC’S LATEST ROUND OF FUNDING GOES TO BLACK WOMEN-LED COMPANIES

Posted on Mar 31, 2021

Digital Sandbox KC completed its first-quarter application cycle by adding two new Black women-led companies to its roster, doubling down on its mission to bring innovative ideas in the Kansas City region to life. 

Bodify, founded by Carlanda McKinney, and Interplay, founded by Jonaie Johnson, are the latest companies to join the Sandbox. 

Learning from past ventures Aphrodite Bra and Raaxo helped McKinney discover a problem she could solve: Helping online shoppers avoid the frustration of finding the right fit. Enter her latest startup Bodify, a web-based platform that leverages computer vision and artificial intelligence to help digital shoppers find the best brands for their bodies.

“Over the past few months, we've gotten a lot of interest in what we are creating,” McKinney says. “Shoppers, potential retail partners and investment groups have taken notice, and the missing piece was having a product ready to go.”

Johnson—a student athlete and recipient of the 2020 Student Entrepreneur of the Award from the Henry W. Bloch School of Management’s Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation—created Interplay, a company that provides dog owners with a remote-control dog crate attachment that lets them interact with their pets with their phone. 

“Receiving the Digital Sandbox KC grant is an essential milestone for my company, as it is my first major source of funding,” Johnson says. “It will help catapult Interplay's overall development and growth.”

Since its inception in 2013, the Sandbox has provided project development funding for 142 area startups, which has spurred an astounding $129,770,821 in total follow-on funding. 

Digital Sandbox KC is a proof-of-concept program that significantly and rapidly moves early-stage entrepreneurs from concept to commercialization. It is a unique collaboration among private, public, university/research and philanthropic organizations.

“We’re always thrilled to welcome entrepreneurs with smart, scalable ideas to the Sandbox,” Meyer says. “Being able to fund companies—particularly Black women-led companies—at this early stage ensures that we’re building an equitable pipeline of innovation in our region.”

Data shows that firms started by Black women received only .0006% of VC funding by startups between 2009 and 2017, according to digitalundivided’s Project Diane 2020

“The latest additions to the Sandbox are building technologies solving real problems with a true potential to scale, showcasing what’s possible right here in Kansas City,” Meyer says. “Early innovations like these are exactly what our region needs—innovations that will create jobs and move our economy forward.”

Here’s more on the two latest companies selected for Digital Sandbox KC support:

Bodify (Overland Park, Kansas)

Bodify is a web-based platform that leverages computer vision and artificial intelligence to help online shoppers find the best brands for their bodies. This both improves the shopping experience and reduces returns for online retailers. The company believes that shoppers that make better decisions about what to buy are more likely to keep the purchases they make.

“This grant accelerates our platform development, which in turn allows us to quickly capitalize on opportunities that may not have been available to us otherwise,” McKinney says. “It's a game changer.”

Interplay (Kansas City, Missouri)

Interplay provides dog owners with a remote-control dog crate attachment that they can use to interact with their pet via their phone. 

“Receiving the Digital Sandbox KC grant is an essential milestone for my company, as it is my first major source of funding,” Johnson says. “It will help catapult Interplay's overall development and growth as I continue progressing. The grant will provide me with the funding I need to perform beta testing before I officially launch. This early-stage funding is further validation that I am building something special and viable, which makes me even more excited to get my product on the market and in the hands of users.”

Digital Sandbox KC is honored to support these new awardees and is ready for new applications for its second-quarter cycle and virtual presentations. Visit digitalsandboxkc.org for more information and to submit your idea.