Finding the right resources to build your tech business isn’t always a walk in the park, but for entrepreneurs in Kansas City, a trip to the Digital Sandbox might just do the trick.
Launched in February of 2013, Digital Sandbox KC is a proof-of-concept program designed to help very early stage companies and entrepreneurs move towards commercialization.
The program was developed through an i6 Challenge grant from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Agency to address two main gaps in Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem – connecting large industries to entrepreneurial and university research networks and providing technical assistance for early stage concept development.
The overall mission of Digital Sandbox is to to accelerate the commercialization of new ideas, promote business, and stimulate job growth in the region.
Director Jeff Shackelford said at Digital Sandbox, they want to help as many entrepreneurs get started in business as possible.
“Our goal as an economic development engine is to create new companies, help them raise money, and create new jobs in the Kansas City metro area,” he said.
Offering access to technology, business and market experts as well as funding for early stage market validation, prototyping and beta testing services, Digital Sandbox certainly has the tools to help new and emerging entrepreneurs be successful.
Perhaps the most valuable service of the program to entrepreneurs is its project development funding.
Once a company has applied to the program and given a pitch presentation, Digital Sandbox evaluates whether it can fund a particular project that would significantly move the company towards commercialization.
Digital Sandbox decides on a quarterly basis which companies to fund, offering up to $25,000 in grants for each company’s project.
Shackleford said they’re looking for ideas with a significant information technology component like mobile apps, web-based platforms, or software to name a few.
“What we’re looking for is scalable ideas,” he said. “We’re looking to find the next generation of great corporate companies in Kansas City.”
Digital Sandbox is not only a source of funding for early stage companies but also a huge connector organization, even for those it doesn’t fund.
A note from MTC Director Bill Anderson
“I cannot overstate the importance of Digital Sandbox to early stage entrepreneurs in the Kansas City area. These companies are in such a critical period of development, and it is because of Digital Sandbox that they are able to really bring their ideas to life. MTC is proud to support a program that is so dedicated to fostering innovation and driving entrepreneurship in the Show-Me State.”
The Sandbox will help connect companies that either aren’t quite ready or that are beyond the reach of the program with other helpful organizations and resources.
With four partnerships throughout the Kansas City area, Digital Sandbox has built quite the castle since its start in 2013. Its partnerships with Great Plains Energy (Energy Sandbox), Independence, Olathe, and most recently St. Joseph have allowed it to expand its reach and help even more entrepreneurs.
To date, Digital Sandbox has worked with over 400 entrepreneurs and startup companies, secured over $38 million in follow-on funding, and created more than 480 new jobs in the Kansas City metro area.
Last month, Digital Sandbox announced five selected companies for its newest cohort.
The program has experienced incredible growth and success, and investors like the Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC) have been vital sources of support along the way.
MTC was the biggest sponsor to help match the i6 Challenge grant that got the program started and has since followed on with Digital Sandbox twice.
“It’s the single most important entity we have,” Shackleford said. “The lion’s share of project funding we give out every year comes from MTC.”
Shackleford added that MTC is helpful not only to Digital Sandbox but also to all the companies that have applied and received funding from MTC.
“What MTC does with its IDEA funds is really filling the gap as we continue to grow more and more capital resources, and it also sends the message the Missouri is driving entrepreneurship,” he said.
Moving forward, Digital Sandbox plans to continue expanding its reach without compromising what it was designed for. The Sandbox will continue to add new geographic locations and vertical industries to the program.
“The goal is to push as much early stage entrepreneurial activity across the entire metropolitan area as we can,” Shackleford said.