A new funding source is open to entrepreneurs in part of Johnson County.
Digital Sandbox, a program of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Innovation Center announced a partnership with Overland Park last week that will distribute up to $60,000 a year for three years to selected applicants.
The partnership is similar to one Digital Sandbox currently has with the city of Olathe.
“We’ve seen Digital Sandbox be successful in their work in other areas. We definitely wanted to make sure that opportunity was open to our residents and companies in Overland Park,” said Beth Johnson, senior vice president of economic development for the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce.
When it started, Digital Sandbox funded businesses on both sides of the state line with grants from the Commerce Department as well as help from the Missouri Technology Corporation.
Due to changes in how it gets its funding, although the program can still give money to businesses all over the Missouri side, it can only fund Kansas applicants whose cities have a specific partnership with Digital Sandbox. Right now, that’s only Overland Park and Olathe.
“We are really excited about it,” said Jill Meyer, senior director of technology ventures at UMKC Innovation Center. “It really is to help drive a lot of the start-ups in the tech space that have been in Overland Park that haven’t been able to take advantage of the Digital Sandbox funding the past couple of years. There’s a lot of technology innovation that’s happening in Overland Park.”
It works like this: Entrepreneurs whose products are not yet on the open market can bring a specific proposal to Digital Sandbox to get additional funding for early stage proof-of-concept product development. In some cases, that might mean being able to put together a prototype to show investors or stores who might carry the product.
“Most of the businesses, their need is for development. They may have taken it as far as they can with their own skill-sets or their own dollars and need an outside vendor” to manufacture an addition piece to get to what the business world calls a minimum viable product, Meyer said.
Representatives of Digital Sandbox sort through the applications and listen to presentations from businesses. The city of Overland Park provides the money to distribute to the businesses. Once a quarter, Digital Sandbox will announce which businesses will receive funding.
“They have the expertise in determining who has the best plan or the ability to see their idea through. They’re the experts. Our part of it is to be support services,” Johnson said.
The money pledged by the city of Overland Park will only go to Overland Park-based businesses. Businesses that go through the Digital Sandbox application process can ask for up to $20,000 but must have a detailed plan for why they need the money and how they intend to use it.
“They have an idea that has feasibility to it. They’ve worked it enough to get to a place where this model makes sense,” Meyer said. “In the continuum of funding, we look at Digital Sandbox as the earliest stage of outside funding.”
All the projects must have a technology aspect to them to qualify.
“It really is a tremendous opportunity, because it’s very early stage grant funds. There’s no investor asking, ‘What are your revenues so far?’ You aren’t giving away equity for it,” Meyer said.
The idea is not only to help launch these start-ups but also to create jobs in Overland Park as those businesses find success and expand.
Since 2013, Digital Sandbox has distributed funding to 121 start-ups in the metro area.