Students win grand prize for pet care innovation

Product lets pets “speak” to owners
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Imagine a product that rewards pet owners for taking their dog on walks and reminds them to schedule a checkup with the veterinarian or to give the cat its heartworm pill.

Veterinary students Jamie Peisel and Katherine Watson did—and the idea won top honors and the $10,000 grand prize as part of the first Veterinary Innovation Challenge. The challenge is an international competition sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and the AVMA PLIT for veterinary students to showcase their business ventures that could impact the future of veterinary medicine.

Jamie Peisel, Nikhil Joshi (Veterinary Innovation Challenge executive director), Katherine Watson, and Dr. Linda Ellis of AVMA PLIT (Courtesy of Nikhil Joshi)

The final round of the challenge was held Sept. 6 at the Penn veterinary school. Eight teams presented their ideas to a panel of judges who ultimately awarded first place to Peisel and Watson, third-year students at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, for Speak, a digital pet dog and cat collar and accompanying smartphone app that will make pet care “fun and easy.”

“Just like when you purchase your first car—it comes with a manual that tells you exactly what your car needs at each mileage interval, right? We’ve gone beyond that by creating a 360-degree management system that not only tells you what your unique pet needs are and when it needs it, but also rewards you for delivering that care,” co-founder Peisel said.

Using GPS, an accelerometer, and various other technologies, Speak’s digital collar communicates electronically with pet owners and veterinarians about the pet’s location and how active it has been.

The smartphone component of Speak features breed-specific recommendations as well as a predetermined series of reminders about exercise, vaccinations, teeth cleaning, and other preventive pet care activities. Users earn “care points” for completing activities, which can be redeemed for products from third-party pet companies.

Additionally, pet owners can use the smartphone app to view instructional videos that encourage follow-through on prescribed veterinary treatments. Videos under development in conjunction with the UC-Davis Veterinary School Community and Behavior Medicine Clinics include the topics low-stress cat handling, nail trim desensitization, and proper ear cleaning.

“We’re able to deliver new and exciting pet products to the owner’s front door because of our partnership with pet product advertisers. They in turn get access to the most dedicated pet-loving consumers while owners receive a tangible reward. Lastly, vet clinics benefit by earning new business and developing longer-term relationships focused on preventive health,” Peisel explained.

Peisel added that her team’s goal is to have a working prototype of the Speak collar and smartphone app early in 2015 and to bring the product to market next September.

Visit for more information about the Veterinary Innovation Challenge and the 2014 finalists.