Last week, the Leap Venture Academy hosted its first Bootcamp for female leaders of early stage pet care startups. For four days, the 19 female founders and CEOs from 13 pet care startups shared their struggles, learned from experts and mentors, and built a lasting community.
The Bootcamp was hosted at the Michelson Found Animals headquarters in Los Angeles, California and teams from Kinship and R/GA joined throughout the week to meet one-on-one with the founders and lead workshops on the pet market and various business topics.
The Bootcamp was the culmination of a new initiative by Leap Venture Academy to support early stage pet care startups through a short, but intense, educational and networking experience. Due to the lack of female presenters and female leaders at pet care industry conferences, Aimee Gilbreath, (Former) Executive Director of Michelson Found Animals, was determined to focus the inaugural Bootcamp on supporting female founders. To fight this lack of diversity, Leap Ventures decided to focus solely on female founders for its first Bootcamp. When reflecting on the Bootcamp, Aimee shared: “We learned, we laughed, we cried, and most importantly we created community. It was an honor to support these leaders who are the future of pet care.”
Startups were selected for their potential impact on the pet care market, the strength of their founding team, and their level of previous activity in Leap Venture Academy programming. A variety of startups tackling different problems were accepted into the Bootcamp, each working to make the world a better place for pets:
- Brainy Pup allows dog owners to rent the world’s best enrichment toys.
- Chippin is working to make dog food more sustainable with underutilized proteins, like crickets.
- Dig connects single dog lovers to plan dog-friendly dates.
- DogDrop is opening a more flexible and convenient dog daycare in Los Angeles.
- How I Met My Dog custom matches new dog owners with the perfect pet.
- K9Align developed a wearable & affordable therapeutic for dogs with hip dysplasia.
- NewRoad bakes & distributes fresh, human grade, & non-GMO pet foods.
- iMyK9 developed a car monitor & temperature tracker for dogs in hot cars.
- PetParent makes it easier to adopt the perfect pet.
- PetHospice supports families through the death of a pet with consultation, education, and an online community.
- Petminded provides you with personalized, pet-friendly travel plans.
- SKYPaws created an all-in-one wireless monitoring device for veterinarians.
- TEEF! is the best way to fight your pet’s dental disease.
Speakers traveled from across the US to meet with these incredible women, to share their expertise, and to provide feedback on their business plans. Each of the four days was assigned a theme relevant to the startup journey: Community, Brand Growth, Finding Resources, and Team & Culture.
Monday was dedicated to “Community,” therefore speakers focused on working with strategic partners and how to use mentors & advisors. Representatives from Mars Petcare, Rover.com, and Modern Animal shared tips and insights on how to partner with organizations of various sizes. The Co-Founders of DogDrop, Shaina Denny & Greer Wilk, also presented on trends redefining retail. The founders learned critical information on how to work with larger companies and increase the reach of their products.
Tuesday focused on “Brand Growth.” Sessions centered around minimum viable brand, growth marketing, channel strategies, and messaging. Experts from R/GA and Hawke Media presented on their proven methods for marketing strategies. An important takeaway from R/GA’s presentation was the importance of branding: “Your brand is not just a logo. It’s every experience a person has with your company.” Representatives from Mars Petcare and Banfield shared how they position their products and branding. At the end of the day, Christina Lubinski, Professor of Entrepreneurship at USC’s Marshall School of Business, discussed the common “Founder’s Dilemmas” that lead to the downfall of startups.
The theme for Wednesday was “Finding Resources.” Investors from Greycroft, Digitalis, and Golden Seeds discussed how to work with investors, presented effective investor decks, and answered questions on fundraising. Cindy Cole from Digitalis shared tips & tricks on leading board meetings: “The more money you raise, the more people have a seat at the table.” As these founders begin to raise capital, it is important to consider how much control they want to maintain and how you work with investors.
Thursday wrapped up the week by discussing “Team & Culture.” Dig Co-Founder and CEO, Leigh Isaacson, used her background in broadcast journalism to guide each female founder through a PR strategy. Dylan Boyd, Leap Venture Studio Managing Director and Director of New Programs Development at R/GA, presented on when to hire and when to outsource, focusing on avoiding burnout as a female founder by prioritizing healthy habits. To emphasize the importance of self-care, Amber J. Lawon and Shawna Bigby Davis, former female executives now dedicated to coaching and teaching a healthy work-life balance, led the women through a workshop to end the week.
Between workshops and sessions with speakers, the women brainstormed collaboration and partnerships between their startups. The environment of the Bootcamp could not have been farther from competitive – helpful feedback, encouraging reactions to pitches, and network connections were exchanged throughout the week.
When regrouping on Tuesday morning and reflecting on the first day of the Bootcamp, Jodi Andersen, Chief Dog Officer of How I Met My Dog, stated: “When we all work together, we can fix so much more than we can separately.” Working in pet care means that each founder cares deeply about the welfare of pets and families and is working to create a better world, together.
Each of the female founders left the week with concrete next steps to grow their businesses. From edits on their decks to marketing & PR strategies to new investor connections, each woman walked away with a plan and a community of support. The Leap Ventures team is ecstatic about the group of startups and female founders that joined us for our inaugural Bootcamp and can’t wait for the next one!