After Accelerating Growth, Gaming Brand DC Upbounders Undertakes Community Investment

DC-based puzzle and gaming brand Upbounders certainly has accomplishments to brag about.

Launched in 2018, the brand is distributed through retailers including ACE material, Target and Nordström; moved to online sales; and considering Canadian expansion, founding Kemi Tinor said.

But before all that, it was something Tignor had created for his now 10-year-old son, Henry, as she was looking for a new direction. Having gotten her start at local farmers markets, she wanted to create something that featured local attractions and scenes for kids, and was more reflective of everyday life.

“There’s so much culturally rich Americana that I felt like I wasn’t being explored. We’re not having fun with it,” Tignor said. Technically. “I just realized, as I was trying to figure out what I could do with myself, I suddenly realized I was in a prime position to try.”

After spending tons of time traveling and being “one of those aunts who always bought something from a museum gift shop,” Tignor was in the midst of a career change when she decided to pursue Upbounders. The company, which it says offers screen-free toys designed to celebrate cultural and ethnic differences, made its official debut at Politics and prose bookstore in DC. The artwork is inspired by when Tignor was raising his son and features illustrations of sites like Takoma Water Park and Downtown hair salon.

“It’s a reflection, literally, of our daily life here in the district,” Tignor said.

After growing up on the local store circuit, Tignor decided to grow the brand even further, building an online presence and starting to sell on Amazon in 2020 with great success. Now the company is seeking investment through a small business bond program SMBXa new route as Upbounders has been fully started so far.

An Upbounders puzzle with the SMBX language on it. (Courtesy image)

The program is a joint effort between Mayor Muriel Bowserthe DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and SMBX, a financing portal registered with the Financial Sector Regulatory Authority. These small business bonds allow businesses to borrow from their community instead of typical investors. It’s a form of regulatory crowdfunding, or Reg CF, that allows anyone – not just accredited investors, as most investments require – to put their money into a private company and (hopefully ) to get a return. For Upbounders, investors can buy bonds starting at $10 and earn 9.5% interest over five years.

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With the money, Tignor plans to expand advertising and use the funds for working capital and recapitalization. Upbounders has already hired a PR firm and is moving into digital advertising, she said. She also plans to engage more with mass buyers and retailers next year.

Most importantly, she hopes the SMBX program will be a community-based and transparent way for the company to grow.

“It’s a way for people to invest and get in on the action without just donating money,” Tignor said. “I really like being able to tell people: I’ll pay you back” – and if so, that will be yet another achievement to celebrate.

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Jill E. Washington