If you have a pet, you probably know this scenario well: you’re at a friend’s house or an evening event, you’re having a great time, and you aren’t quite ready to leave yet. Things aren’t turning down anytime soon, but you remember that you need to go home and let the dog out of their kennel. Or make sure there’s kibble in the bowl for them to eat. Or refill the water bowl. Or even spend some time playing with them before ending the night. So, you end your night early and head home to tend to your furry friend. While all pet parents know the work is worth it, Jonaie Johnson saw this experience first hand when at numerous family events, her aunt would have to end her night early to head home and take care of her dog. Having to see her aunt miss out on so many family functions inspired Jonaie to imagine InterPlay.
Interplay is an automated dog crate with a connected smartphone app that allows pet owners to open or close their dog’s kennel remotely from anywhere, just using their phone. InterPlay doesn’t just allow users to open and close their dog’s kennel, but also dispense food or even play with their pet without being at home.
According to Jonaie, she’s been an entrepreneur all her life.
“When others wanted to be doctors and lawyers, I wanted to own my own business.”
Jonaie began her entrepreneurial journey in elementary school, making and selling bracelets to friends and classmates, before selling candy bars and snacks to peers in middle school. The idea for InterPlay came to Jonaie during her senior year of high school, where she received support and advice from her high school engineering teacher. As a full-time student and athlete at UMKC, it’s no surprise Jonaie’s major is in Entrepreneurship at the UMKC Bloch School of Business. While at UMKC, Jonaie has been involved with the E-Scholars program, a cohort-based program within the Bloch School that takes student entrepreneurs from concept ideation to product launch. E-Scholar supports participants through networking and mentorship and opens an array of doors for students to build their business idea.
“I’m a non-tech person who needs a lot of support in tech, E-Scholars helped me find resources and information, as well as connecting me with Block Knowledge and Quest (Moffat)”.
Jonaie joined the Block Knowledge Product Development class virtually in June 2020. For her, the class helped to learn more about the tech side of entrepreneurship and how to work with developers, especially when it came to building out the technology behind InterPlay. Being a Chicago transplant, Jonaie wasn’t really familiar with the KC entrepreneurial and tech ecosystem outside of UMKC’s campus.
“Block Knowledge provided the resources and connections needed to learn about Product Development, as well as allowing us to reach out whenever we needed and ask questions.”
For InterPlay, the next steps are to complete UI/UX design and begin beta testing a prototype. For Jonaie, this means connecting her years of planning, imagining, and thinking with reality to determine the best product design and market fit for her idea. The road to get to this point hasn’t been easy, and some of the biggest struggles for Jonaie have been working on a tech product without a tech background and getting connected to folks who can help bring InterPlay to life. But the one piece of advice Jonaie has for other aspiring entrepreneurs is: just go for it.
“Just do it, if you don’t think you have the resources or knowledge you need to, then connect with people, find organizations like E-Scholars and Block Knowledge who can help. You don’t have to do it alone, there are people and places out there who have the ability to take your company or idea to the next level.”
And for those of you interested in learning more about InterPlay for your own furry friends, hopefully, you won’t have to wait long.
“I really want a prototype right now, but it’s coming soon. For now, just spread the word about InterPlay and remember: When you’re away, you can know your pet’s okay with InterPlay.”
Jonaie is currently working with the KC Prototype Group and Block Knowledge to develop a functional dog crate prototype, with a click-through prototype.
Block Knowledge’s Startup Studio is a Kansas City-based venture builder sponsored by JP Morgan & Chase, Kapor Center, and Kauffman Foundation.In the past five years, Block Knowledge has worked to support, incubate, and launch more than 67 companies. Block Knowledge has assisted these companies in locating an additional $5 million in funding through local funds, grants, angel investors, and community resources. We have assisted one founder in exiting their company through a Merger & Acquisition.
As a startup studio, we are committed to providing resources to founders struggling to validate their business ideas, launch a new product, and or raise funding. Block Knowledge places an emphasis on assisting founders from diverse and underestimated communities.
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