Inkbox’s two-week tattoos made waves when the company debuted its product on Kickstarter last year – Toronto-based founders Tyler and Braden Handley raised nearly $300,000 for their organic limited-time body art invention, which was a refinement of their original product offering that cut application time to just 10 minutes. A year later, they’ve raised $1 million in seed funding – from a list of angels that includes some familiar names.
Emmy-nominated actress Alison Sweeney, who counts The Biggest Loser and Days of Our Lives among her acting credits, is an inkbox investor. So, too, is Jeff Probst, another reality TV show host, who has been the face of Survivor since it first debuted in 2000. Both investors were specifically attracted to inkbox’s premise of providing people with the creative expressive capabilities of body art without the commitment; So much so, in fact, that Probst made inkbox his first ever investment in a tech startup.
“Since investing is not my expertise I definitely have to be very connected to the product or the idea,” Probst explained via email. “I also seek council from friends who are experienced investors. Inkbox checked every box. I was very inspired by the idea and very impressed with the people behind it.”
“To tattoo or not tattoo is a common question among my group of friends,” Probst said about inkbox’s personal appeal. “We all love the idea of self-expression but many are reluctant to commit to a tattoo for life. There have been so many times while shooting SURVIVOR that I would’ve tattooed myself to commemorate a moment or to be part of the culture I was living with but the idea of it being for life stopped me. I’ve been dreaming about a short-term tattoo for years and when I heard about iInbox I was immediately intrigued.”
And for Sweeney, this isn’t the first seed investment she’s participated in, but the belief in the product and the concept behind it is just as strong.
“I love the idea of expressing oneself in all ways, especially when they can change with time rather than being permanent,” Sweeney told me via email. “When I learned about inkbox and started to talk with Tyler about his vision for the company, I was excited to join the team and be part of the movement.”
The team Tyler and inkbox have assembled is key to the company’s future, and none maybe more so than the company’s first main hire, Chris Caputo, who was doing a postdoc at Harvard when inkbox hired him five months ago, and one of Canada’s most promising young chemists. That leadership hire, as well as this round, were based on inkbox’s assertion that this is just their first product. in fact, Handley tells me that they’re currently working on a version of their temporary tattoo tech that lasts 30 days, and that’s just the start.
“We consider our company first and foremost a biotech company on the back end, and we have a consumer front-end that sells a fashion accessory,” Handley explained. “And it makes it quite challenging to find the right talent, because how do you hire a software developer to work on a product like this?”
Hiring hasn’t been the young startup’s only challenge: Handley says that because of how new the tech behind the product is, they’ve had to “manufacture it from scratch,” so going from prototype and the foundational, tested science to something that could be manufactured at the scale that a consumer product required took at least six months, culminating in a general consumer launch last week.
Temporary tattoos may not initially seem like a high-tech product, but inkbox already has strong scientific talent on its side with Caputo, and this new round from angels including Sweeney, Probst, Marc Bell, Joe Roos and Chicago-based early-stage VC firm KGC Capital. With retail sales on the horizon, and more products in the pipeline, it’s an interesting company to watch in the world of natural science.