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UC Davis Veterinary Students Win Inaugural Veterinary Innovation Challenge

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From left: DVM student Jamie Peisel, VIC judge Rose Hamilton, and DVM student Kate Watson celebrate the grand prize.

Sept. 2014

Sometimes the best ideas come to mind while taking a walk. During an afternoon stroll through the UC Davis arboretum, third-year veterinary students Kate Watson and Jamie Peisel discovered they shared mutual ideas for improving pet care management in a fun and rewarding way. That idea, now known as SPEAK, garnered First Place and a grand prize of $10,000 at the inaugural Veterinary Innovation Challenge (VIC) held at the University of Pennsylvania earlier this month.

SPEAK would essentially combine wearable pet technology (a collar with digital display) and a smartphone application to reward owners for more effectively responding to their pets’ needs so their pets can live longer, healthier lives. 

“Our idea was to appeal to millennials and take advantage of that market by ‘gamifying’ pet care,” Watson explains. “The system not only tells you what your unique pet needs and when it needs it, but also rewards you for delivering that care.”

Watson explains that by providing care to their pets using SPEAK, pet parents earn points that can be redeemed for real world pet products provided by 3rd party advertisers. This provides two forms of reinforcement to help pet owners continue to provide optimal care: 1) the immediate reinforcement by earning points for their actions, and 2) a tangible reinforcement when a goal is met strengthening their commitment to continued care.

In addition, the app will serve as a reminder system for when vaccinations and preventative care is due, while providing instructional videos to empower owners to follow through with prescribed treatments. The collar will communicate with WiFi or Bluetooth enabled devices to update the pet parent on the animal’s location and their activity levels.

Watson and Peisel pursued their transformative idea by drafting a business plan for the Veterinary Innovation Challenge. The veterinary school’s Dean Lairmore encouraged them to attend the Biomedical and Engineering Entrepreneurship Academy at the Graduate School of Management, where they worked on how to articulate their idea through seminars and interactive workshops, mentoring sessions with industry executives and investors, and networking opportunities. (The academy is a groundbreaking collaboration co-sponsored by the UC Davis College of Engineering, School of Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine and the Office of Research.)

For the innovation challenge, their project was evaluated on the following points:

Market opportunity (clear market presented, and a way to take advantage of that need)

Distinctive competence (something special/unique/distinctive that provides competitive advantage)

Management capability (the team can develop this company and handle the risks)

Financial understanding (team has a solid understanding of the financial requirements of the business)

Presentation (a logical, persuasive presentation with appropriate answers to questions) 

Watson and Peisel plan to use their winnings to develop SPEAK's first collar prototype to translate the idea into a product to show potential customers and investors. They’ve already expanded their expertise by reaching out to market, financial and legal professionals to guide them during this entrepreneurial adventure.

“With our pet care management system, pet owners will be able to communicate with their pets in a new way,” Peisel said in an interview with NEWStat. “They can even choose a ‘voice’ for their pet if they feel inclined.”

Peisel encouraged other veterinary students with creative and inspirational ideas to enter the innovation challenge. 

“The competition helped us to define our product and pushed us to move forward with our idea,” she said. “Without this catalyst, we may have kicked around the idea without actually taking the steps necessary to bring it to market.”

Nikhil Joshi, VIC executive director, recommended that veterinary students who didn’t enter the inaugural 2014 competition get started on developing an idea for the competition's second year.

"Submit your ideas! You don't have to be an expert in business or entrepreneurship," Joshi said. "You already know about some of the problems in veterinary medicine, pet parenting, livestock handling, etc. Your idea could be worth a lot of money and save a lot of animals' lives, so why not give it a shot?"

Visit the Veterinary Innovation Challenge website for more information about the 2014 competition, the eight finalists, and the event winners.