Innovation is most vulnerable at the stage between research and revenue. And that’s precisely where Digital Sandbox KC comes in.
The Sandbox recently released its 2022 Impact Report, which tells the story of how $20,000 in project-funding for each of its 165 Kansas City innovations has yielded economic impact for KC founders and for our region.
Since the program’s inception in 2013, Digital Sandbox KC has awarded over $3 million in proof-of-concept funding to 165 KC-area startups. Sandbox companies have leveraged that initial investment and the connections of the Sandbox and its partners to raise nearly $200 million in follow-on funding. In fact, 33 Sandbox companies have raised over $1 million in follow-on funding, and 27 have achieved more than $1 million in sales, as outlined in the organization’s latest 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,” added Meyer.
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’ 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.
“For our innovators, Sandbox funds are a critical investment at a critical time in their startup journey that yields significant returns, certainly, for these innovations and their founders, but also for local investors, the innovation community and our regional economy,” said Meyer.
The stories of successful alums of the program—and of the line-of-sight the Sandbox has provided to early-stage innovation for nearly a decade— are stacking up. 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 vital to our future success,” said Hulsen, who cofounded the Leawood-based RFP360 10 years ago. RFP360 leveraged early Sandbox support in 2013 to grow their software solution, raise $12 million in follow-on funding and land a lucrative acquisition.
“The Sandbox provided some important funding for us to do a couple of big projects early on that were key pillars years later. The backbone of our infrastructure and a key integration we have were the result of the early-stage funding all those years ago.”
The leaps and bounds companies can make as a result of Digital Sandbox KC are possible because of the support and commitment of stakeholders and supporters in Kansas City’s entrepreneurship community.
“Digital Sandbox KC puts companies in the spotlight so investors can be a part of the next big thing in KC innovation and potentially support the next company to raise $1 million, earn $1 million in revenue or make a big exit,” Meyer said. “The Sandbox provides support to help these ideas survive and thrive, while giving investors an early line of sight to next-wave innovations from our own backyard.”
As part of UMKC Innovation Center’s Technology Venture Studio, the Sandbox supports early-stage startups not only with project funding, but also with panels of experts during Summer in the Sand, as well as founder roundtables, where entrepreneurs are introduced to peer networks of support; referrals to other transformation funding and programs, like Comeback KC, Launch KC, Pure Pitch Rally, Pipeline and others; intentional connections to regional and national angels and venture capitalists for follow-on funding; and exposure to cutting-edge technologies emerging from partner research institutions in the region.
As part of the UMKC Innovation Center’s Technology Venture Studio, Digital Sandbox KC helps move early-stage innovations from concept to reality—all to create jobs and economic impact, attract more equity funding to the region and establish Kansas City as a tech hub.
Digital Sandbox KC accepts new applications on a rolling basis and funds projects every quarter. Visit digitalsandboxkc.com/submit-idea for more information and to submit an idea.