Over the last 50 years, pets have gone from being property to companions to full-fledged members of the family that you may or may not dress in decorative sweaters and push around in a stroller. Sales of pet food and care products topped $100 billion worldwide last year, and as the share of millennials becoming pet owners continues to grow, so too has the demand for more modern solutions to help them take better care of their pets, creating a unique market opportunity.
Mars Petcare, Michelson Found Animals Foundation, and R/GA Ventures are banding together to address that opportunity with the Leap Venture Studio, a startup accelerator program to be hosted at R/GA’s Portland, OR office. The program is looking to work with with early-stage startups, companies, and entrepreneurs doing work across eight general areas: pet nutrition and wellness; pet health and medical; pet diagnostics; solutions, platforms, and other services for pet owners and vets; AI and machine learning; advanced analytics; connected products and spaces; and genetics.
Leonid Sudakov, president of connected solutions at Mars Petcare, says that through pet nutrition and health, medical care, diagnostics, genetics, and consumer technology the company touches about 50% of the world’s pet population. “We also want to be the partner of choice for every person with a big idea, every industry disruptor, every startup founder that wants to turn their vision for pet care into a reality. But we know we can’t do it alone,” he says.
Michelson Found Animals Foundation, a nonprofit founded by billionaire philanthropist Dr. Gary Michelson, created the first free national microchip registry for animals, owns and operates a pet retail concept called Adopt & Shop, and is conducting ongoing research projects to find a “non surgical alternative” for neutering and spaying. Executive director Aimee Gilbreath says, “Within the foundation, we run two businesses that were once startups and are now more mature, one in pet retail and one in RFID microchip technology for the pet professional market. So this is very aligned with our mission.”
Since 2013, R/GA Ventures has hosted 13 different accelerator programs across digital media, sports, and internet of things technology, and its portfolio has grown to more than 80 companies. One of them is Darkstore, which participated in R/GA’s connected commerce accelerator in 2016 and most recently worked with the agency to help create a shoppable Snapchat experience for Jordan Brand.
“Both of these partners have compelling visions for the sector,” says Stephen Plumlee, R/GA’s executive vice-president, global chief operating officer and managing partner of R/GA Ventures. “And when one looks at the sector, you realize how extensive both the business and technology innovation there is in the pet sector, which is very interesting. It has great potential for new technology, products and services.”