Members of the City Council and the public take a tour of the Innovation Stockyards at the Kit Bond Incubator before a work session. The Council will vote next to give money to the Innovation Stockyards for a Digital Sandbox Program, which gives startup grants to STEM field companies.

A Kansas City program designed to help entrepreneurs and small businesses grow that came to St. Joseph less than a year ago already has boosted a locally started company to a national level.

Digital Sandbox KC launched a program out of Innovation Stockyard in St. Joseph about six months ago.

The program offers grants, mentorship and workspace for individuals with business ideas or groups trying to start a company. In Kansas City, it has helped start over 90 companies that now operate.

In September, the St. Joseph City Council toured the Innovations Stockyard facility in the Christopher S. “Kit” Bond Science and Technology Incubator on Mitchell Avenue. A representative from Digital Sandbox gave the Council a presentation over the program before asking for funds from the City in order to keep it running in St. Joseph.

The Council was in favor of supporting the program, an opinion shared by the City Staff.

Director of Planning and Community Development Clint Thompson said the program would be a way to increase young business in the community.

“This is really to assist and foster new startup businesses and allow entrepreneurs an opportunity to co-exist and share resources in the same facility,” Thompson said.

President of Innovation Stockyard Ronan Molloy said the program is special in that it is possible to see directly how it grows business.

“We see this as one of the most exciting (programs) and it really has the true metric behind it, as opposed to money just randomly going out,” Molloy said. “They can actually show jobs and investment that are a result of this.”

Since it’s launch in St. Joseph, Digital Sandbox has seen 14 applications and seven of those have led to presentations in front of judges.

Only one company has been awarded a $15,000 grant in St. Joseph so far.

Toss It Curbside, a company that employs drivers to make on-call pickups of junk left on the curb, is already operating across the country despite only being in business for half a year.

Co-founder Aaron Brennan said the grant was used to create a mobile application for the company, but the program has also provided mentoring and an office at the incubator.

Brennan said the competitive presentation was a lot like a popular television show where investors choose to fund inventions.

“It’s similar to shark tank I guess in a way, there were several worthy businesses that had applied and for whatever reason, they fell in love with our business and decided to help,” Brennan said.

He said the process was painless for the applicants and only took about a month.

“We just gave a presentation, it was very simple, the application process was very easy. We filled out a few little things and eventually we were in front of some folks who were looking at the business,” Brennan said.

Toss It Curbside will pick up most items aside from paint, tire and chemicals. The program recycles or donates about 75 percent of the items they collect. Customers use the website or app to schedule a pickup and pay online, never needing to be available for the pickup to happen.

While the company began in St. Joseph, most of its business is done out of state by more than 100 haulers.

Molloy said the program was chosen because it satisfies the three elements of business that the program seeks: scalability, jobs and an add-on investment.

“It’s a great function, it’s environmentally concerned and it’s really moving to multiple other cities as we speak,” Molloy said. “So, it’s a really good poster child of a promising company.”

Another round of applicants will be seen by Digital Sandbox soon and applications are due Jan. 12.

The City Council will vote Monday on whether or not to provide $25,000 to the program, which would match the amount already approved by the county.

Brendan Welch can be reached at brendan.welch@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWelch.