Meet the Newest KC Startups in the Sandbox

Meet the Newest KC Startups in the Sandbox

Digital Sandbox KC completed its second-quarter 2022 application cycle, adding five new companies to its roster and connecting them to investors, resources and other founders in Kansas City’s startup network so they can scale their innovations.

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.   

Meet the latest five startups to receive $20,000 each in project funding from Digital Sandbox KC for its second-quarter application cycle for 2022.

DeskSides – Shawnee Mission, Kansas

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.

“Old-fashioned public relations practices and pitching have not changed, even as the media industry continues to modernize,” said DeskSides co-founder Blish Mize Connor. “Our goal is to directly connect brands to journalists for half the time and cost. Your success with the press shouldn’t be determined by where your business is based. We want brands to be successful, whether they are in New York City or Kansas City. This could ease the burden on brands, reduce marketing costs and even lessen the environmental impacts that traditional PR travel once had.”

AskSAMIE by Accessible Living – 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.

“Digital Sandbox KC’s funding will allow us to get our first version of the app completed and out to the public for use just as quickly as it can get built,” said Brandy Archie, co-founder of AskSAMIE. “Without this funding, it would have taken us much longer, as the whole project is currently being bootstrapped. 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.”


Phog Labs – Overland Park, Kansas

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.

“Project funding from Digital Sandbox KC will allow us to add the necessary features to get our first VR game, ‘Wallball,’ to market,” said Phog Labs CEO James Flexman. “We are excited to launch our game on the leading VR platform, the Meta Quest 2, later this year.”


Empower Fresh – Independence, Missouri

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.

“The funding we receive from Digital Sandbox KC will allow us to put into place the necessary app features for our development phase with 18 independent grocery stores,” said Anthony Totta, CMO Empower Fresh Co. “This is a very important step, as it is foundational for our entry into the market and improvement of the app.”

Venues Made Simple – Spring Hill, Kansas

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.

“We are so grateful to Digital Sandbox KC for allowing us to further our website’s development,” said Jessie and Jeff Pavalone, co-owners. “With this project funding, we will be able to implement more features that our venues have specifically requested, such as the ability to book new clients directly within our platform. The additional development will bring us one step closer to creating the ultimate one-stop shop for venue-client relationship management.”

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.

Since the program’s inception in 2013, Digital Sandbox KC has had an immense impact on the startups it works with. With a total of over $3 million in proof-of-concept project funding awarded to 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 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.

 Digital Sandbox KC is honored to support these five new awardees and is accepting new applications for its third-quarter 2022 cycle and presentations. Visit to submit your idea for Sandbox proof-of-concept funding.