Digital Sandbox KC Funded 100 Startups (When the Goal Was Just 10)Amy Brost
Jeff Shackelford, Director of Digital Sandbox KC
It’s been five years since we launched our “startup” —Digital Sandbox KC. I distinctly remember the program’s initial objective was to find 10 early-stage companies that could use our project development funding to significantly move their idea forward and secure add-on investment and eventually, create new local jobs.
With our first i6 Challenge grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the matching funds from Missouri Technology Corporation and our founding corporate partners (Sprint, VML, Hallmark, UMB, Union Station and Rarewire), we had 18 months to prove our hypothesis.
Could we stimulate significant economic development activity by creating a proof-of-concept program?
In February 2013, we publicly launched the program at Union Station, calling for KC area entrepreneurs to bring their business concepts to the Sandbox. The response was overwhelming. Within weeks, we had received nearly 100 applicants, all wanting to know how the Digital Sandbox KC could help their startup get off and running. And amazingly, it has never slowed down!
To date, we’ve worked with more than 500 early-stage area entrepreneurs. We’ve provided project development funding for 100 early-stage companies. Let me restate that—we hoped to find 10 and instead we found 100 . . . and we’re still growing.
Seeing the success of the program in KC, the Sandbox has expanded into new areas and markets through partnerships with the cities of Independence and St. Joseph, Missouri, and Olathe, Kansas. In 2016, we partnered with GXP Investments to launch the Energy Sandbox to provide project funding to entrepreneurs in Kansas and Missouri with energy-related concepts.
I’ve always said that Kansas City is full of bright, creative, energetic folks with great ideas. The volume of folks that come to the Sandbox is the proof.
Over the last five years, the Sandbox has provided more than $1.8 million in project development grants. At the end of 2017, 70 percent of the companies who had received funding from the Sandbox had gone on to raise a total of more than $52 million in add-on investments and helped create more than 600 new area jobs.
The local ecosystem works.
We’ve seen many of our funding recipients from the first few years raise more than $1 million rounds of investment. As Hallmark’s Don Hall, Jr., once said, ”What’s coming out of Digital Sandbox KC will be the future of Kansas City.”
I guess we proved the original hypothesis: you can drive sustained economic development by helping very early-stage entrepreneurs move forward.
The last five years have been the most fun and rewarding of my professional life. I’ve met scores of bright people, countless folks working hard to help early-stage and small businesses grow and flourish, stalwart local corporations, local cities and chambers that help promote the Sandbox and state and federal agencies that have provided the funding necessary to make this all happen. As someone who has lived in the KC area all my life, it gives me great pleasure and hope to be a part of the continued efforts to build a sustainable, robust ecosystem to support our entrepreneurial community and continue on our mission to help make Kansas City America’s Most Entrepreneurial City.
So now, let’s go find the next 100!
Ready to bring your idea to the Sandbox? Digital Sandbox KC accepts applications on a rolling basis, here. Many concepts that eventually received funding didn’t get it the first time around, so don’t hesitate to get your idea out there to start receiving feedback and guidance.
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