Digital Sandbox KC funding recipients

Digital Sandbox KC's latest round of funding recipients includes (from left) Anthony Totta, Empower Fresh; James Flexman, Phog Labs; Jessie and Jeff Pavalone, Venues Made Simple; Brandy Archie, AskSAMIE by Accessible Living; and Blish Mize Connor, DeskSides. | Courtesy of Digital Sandbox KC

Digital Sandbox KC, a proof-of-concept program for early-stage businesses in Kansas City, added five startups to its roster after completing its second-quarter 2022 application cycle.

The organization awarded each of the five startups $20,000, which company representatives said will help the development of their businesses.

“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,” Anthony Totta, of Empower Fresh Co. said in a press release. “This is a very important step, as it is foundational for our entry into the market and improvement of the app.”

The five Kansas City-area startups added in the second quarter are:

  • Desksides, a digital marketplace for journalists and brands;
  • AskSAMIE, an app developed to assist caregivers by matching older adults with equipment specific to their physical needs;
  • Empower Fresh, an app built to provide tips on handling produce for grocers;
  • Venues Made Simple, a digital tool to help couples find and book wedding venues;
  • Phog Labs, which builds virtual reality workouts through sports-driven games.

Impact report

The Technology Venture Studio at the University of Missouri-Kansas City released the Digital Sandbox KC 2022 impact report Tuesday.

The report detailed the work of Digital Sandbox KC from its founding until the present. Since 2013, the program has funded 165 startups in the Kansas City area, granting over $3 million in the past nine years.

Of the 165 projects, 86% have received follow-on funding, according to the report, and 33 have raised over $1 million in follow-on funding. Twenty-seven businesses have done over $1 million in sales.

Since 2019, 29% of startup founders have been women, and 56% of founders have been people of color.


Teddy Maiorca is a senior at the MU School of Journalism specializing in editing. Previously, he was a copy editor and graphics reporter with the Columbia Missourian, and he has experience in sports radio production, podcasting and reporting.

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