Meet the Latest 4 Companies to Land Digital Sandbox KC Early-Stage Project Funds

From left to right: Philip Hickman, PlaBook; Nomi Smith, PMI Rate Pro; Jerren Thornhill, The Guy Experience; Max Schanker, SWOT

Digital Sandbox KC has selected four companies for proof-of-concept support this quarter, continuing its commitment to fuel innovation in the Kansas City community, even as measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 disrupt the startup and small businesses economy across the country.

“Now, more than ever, we need to support our early-stage companies with programs like Digital Sandbox KC,” says Jill Meyer, senior director of technology ventures at the UMKC Innovation Center.

Since its inception in 2013, Digital Sandbox KC has provided project development funding for 129 area startups, which has spurred more than $80 million in follow-on funding.

“We know our entrepreneurs are facing so much uncertainty in this current situation,” Meyer says. “We want to do our part to collectively champion these innovative companies.”

Digital Sandbox KC is a proof-of-concept program that significantly and rapidly moves early-stage entrepreneurs from concept to commercialization. It is a unique collaboration among private, public, university/research and philanthropic organizations.

The companies selected for funding support this quarter are split equally from Kansas City, Missouri, and Overland Park, Kansas, and reflect the entrepreneurial spirit that’s typical of Sandbox companies.

“From an innovative reading platform to a product addressing the mortgage industry, all four of these companies demonstrate the creativity and ingenuity that will keep driving our economy,” Meyer says.

The latest companies selected for Digital Sandbox KC support include:



PlaBook (Kansas City, Missouri) is an innovative reading platform that utilizes artificial intelligence, natural language processing, speech recognition, and AI emotion-recognition software to assist students with reading fundamentals, reading fluency and reading comprehension.

“I am honored to be a recipient of Digital Sandbox KC,” says Dr. Philip Hickman, CEO and founder of PlaBook. “An entrepreneur without funding is like a painter without a paintbrush. And during this ‘new normal,’ I’m grateful the Sandbox stayed true to its mission in providing resources and funding to companies like ours so that we can be the engine of economic development in Kansas City.”

PMI Rate Pro

For decades, homebuyers have overpaid by the billions for private mortgage insurance, and loan officers have largely been unaware of all available options. In less than 30 seconds, PMI Rate Pro (Overland Park, Kansas) provides loan officers the most affordable PMI rate for homebuyers, with an average savings of $28 per month.

“With Sandbox funding, we can improve our website interface as well as build direct API access to mortgage lenders’ and banks’ loan origination systems,” says Nomi Smith, CEO of PMI Rate Pro. “This funding will make it possible for loan officers to save money for their clients quickly and efficiently.”

The Guy Experience

The Guy Experience (Kansas City, Missouri) is the premium experience management company for the 21st-century guy. Date night and trip planning are made easy with unforgettable experiences. The all-in-one service app features a personal tech concierge, George, who creates “your day your way” by combining local experiences, food and premium transportation.

“Digital Sandbox KC embodies the spirit of true entrepreneurship and has provided me with the platform to inspire other entrepreneurs who dare to take the road less traveled,” says Jerren Thornhill, founder of The Guy Experience.


Started by three co-founders, Max Schanker, Nate Schanker and Nolan Blankenau, SWOT (Overland Park, Kansas) is a social media platform that ranks anything and everything to “see what others think” (SWOT). Users can share their specific interests; compare opinions with friends, celebrities and the aggregated world; and ultimately become aware of the world’s best of the best so they can maximize value.

“We are extremely grateful to have been awarded the Digital Sandbox KC grant,” says Max Schanker. “While the grant itself will help us get to market much faster, we are even more excited to just be a part of the Sandbox family, with all of the other companies that are actively improving the startup community in KC.”

> > > Digital Sandbox KC is honored to support these new awardees and is ready for new applications for its second-quarter cycle and virtual presentations. Visit for more information and submit your idea.

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