Two Texas A&M visionaries are $10,000 closer to bringing to life their invention after earning first place in a pitch competition at the 2019 Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) Symposium, held March 9-11 at the University of Georgia in Athens.
Brianna Boyle, a third-year veterinary student in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and Stephanie Young, a sophomore animal science major, beat out 25 teams from across the U.S. and England to take home the top prize.
In the competition, they pitched their product SkyPaws, LLC, a patent-pending vital monitoring device that allows veterinarians to monitor their patients’ heart rate, respiration, temperature, and other vital signs by lying the sensor against the animal’s skin.
“SkyPaws eliminates the wires and condenses all of the sensors down into one device. This creates less hassle for the veterinarian and the technician, and it allows for remote, instant access to your patient vitals,” Boyle said. “The vitals are live-streamed across our website or application, which can be accessed anywhere within the facility by the veterinarian, so they don’t have to be patient-side in order to see what’s going on with the patient vitals.”
SkyPaws was originally devised by Young as a high school science fair project she; she was inspired to create SkyPaws while working at a veterinary clinic in her hometown after witnessing a dog named Charlie die following a routine procedure.
“Charlie’s procedure went without any complications. The veterinary hospital was so busy that day, and the dog’s vitals were fine, so we put Charlie in the kennel and just decided to check on him every once in a while to make sure that he was doing OK,” Young said. “Not five minutes later, I was mopping the facility and I happened to walk by and notice that Charlie was unusually still. Knowing that something was off, I called the veterinarian technician over, and Charlie wasn’t breathing. At that moment, the whole clinic flew into a frenzy. They did everything they could, but, sadly, Charlie didn’t make it.
“One of the hardest things was talking to the owner, saying that her dog Charlie, who was going to go home to her family and had been doing just fine, wasn’t,” Young said. “That whole time, I was wondering if there was a way that we could monitor these patients better, without just leaving them in the kennel and hoping that they’re still breathing.”
After meeting Boyle through the CVM’s Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy, Young partnered with Boyle and the two began working to refine the product. The next step involves fundraising to bring their product to life, and the pair turned to the SAVMA pitch competition to start that process.
After eight months of preparation—including constructing a prototype, creating a business plan and countless videos to explain the product, completing market research that included interviewing veterinarians, and developing and refining their pitch—the pair submitted their entry, which was accepted, and traveled to Athens for the contest.
“When we pitched, everything flowed, which was great. I don’t think we’ve ever pitched so well,” Young said. “We got a ton of questions, which is really exciting for us, because our main goal with our pitch was to get people to ask us to tell them more.
“We wanted the pitch to end with people wanting to know more,” Boyle added. “The other two teams, they got two or three questions, and then for us there were like, I don’t know, 15-plus questions; they had to cut the judges off because they were going on for so long.”
That they won was the culmination of hard work and preparation, but also was inspiration to keep moving forward with the development of their prototype and the fundraising process.
“The feedback we got afterward from the judges was that ‘SkyPaws is incredible,’ ‘this is where the industry is going,’ ‘we hope you guys are the ones to do it first,’ ‘we love your passion,’ ‘we could really feel how much you guys care about this,” Boyle said. “It just was really positive and really uplifting to see that what we’re doing, what we believe in, so many other people also believe in. That’s always a really good feeling.
“I think the biggest thing for both of us was that we had gotten validation from pretty significant people in the industry; to have a whole room of people and a panel of incredible judges all from different backgrounds also believe in us was just such an amazing feeling,” Boyle said. “I think for the first time, I really thought, wow we can really go somewhere with this.”
Next up, Boyle and Young will participate in the Texas A&M McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship Aggie Pitch competition on April 2, and the pair will both have a start-up booth and participate in the start-up pitch competition at the CVM’s Veterinary Innovation Summit, April 5-7.