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The Leap Venture Studio’s Paige Ellen Aligns With her Personal Mission to Fuel Innovation & Impact 

Paige Ellen wears many hats. And she always has: in college, she changed her major six different times. She always demonstrated a lot of energy, and she needed a job that could satisfy her curious and dedicated nature. Once she graduated, she made her impact in more than a handful of (I’ve had nine positions, so less than 12) unique positions. Throughout it all, though, she relied on her personal mission: she wanted to see the world and do impactful work with great people. 

Her guiding principles led her to a new ecosystem, one where she could put her people skills, wanderlust, and curiosity to good use: the startup accelerator space. 

Working in startup accelerators, Paige’s job was to support growth-driven companies through financing, education, and professional mentorship. She began working in the food industry, but it wouldn’t be long before she discovered Michelson Found Animals and their Leap Venture Studio.

A Jane-of-all-Trades Finds Her Ace: Leap Venture Studio

In 2018, the Michelson Found Animals Foundation, Mars Petcare, and R/GA Ventures teamed up to create The Leap Venture Studio and Academy

It was the first startup-centric accelerator focused on driving innovation in the growing pet care industry. In other words, Leap would be the first accelerator specifically designed to support pet care entrepreneurs looking to bring exciting new products and services to the market. 

If you aren’t familiar, a startup accelerator is a program that offers monetary investment funding, mentorship, customized sessions, and a collaborative community of fellow entrepreneurs to startup founders. 

As she learned about Leap, Paige was immediately intrigued by its collaborative spirit. Paige was curious to see how the partnership between Michelson, a non-profit foundation, and Mars Petcare, a large corporation, would function and lead to unique innovation opportunities. Needless to say, Paige had found her next adventure: becoming the Senior Program Manager of Leap Venture Studio and Academy. 

Growing the Petcare Industry by Leaps and Bounds 

Companies that have completed the Leap Venture Studio have cumulatively gone on to raise more than $200 million in follow-on capital.  The Studio’s portfolio currently includes 51 companies globally, spanning 16 countries. 

Leap empowers pet care entrepreneurs to achieve their goals through two programs, Leap Venture Studio and Leap Venture Academy

Leap Venture Studio, the organization’s flagship accelerator program, is a 12-week hybrid experience that provides companies with a $200k USD venture capital investment and direct access to mentorship and expertise from the Leap Venture Studio network. Participants also get to join a cohort of other founders and pet care industry experts where they can ask questions, get advice, and strengthen their skills.

After several months of preparation, the program culminates with a Demo Day event, where cohort companies pitch to investors, industry leaders, and the broader pet care community.

The program is designed for seed-stage companies, which are businesses that are in the market and have some early traction or revenue but need to grow. Especially at this stage, the lessons and connections gained through the Studio program prove to be invaluable for founders. 

Take Dog Child, a pet care startup that’s part of Leap’s expansive portfolio of companies, for example. Founder and CEO Nicole Marchand notes that the connections forged through Leap revolutionized her business, helping her establish a clear brand for her products and iron out behind-the-scenes challenges like supply chain issues. 

In addition to Leap Venture Studio,  Leap Venture Academy also provides valuable programs for pet care startup founders.

Academy programs are ideal for companies at a slightly earlier stage than Leap Venture Studio companies. 

The Leap Venture Academy includes one-week intensives, pitch competitions, and showcases. All with the objective of connecting founders with the resources they need to reach their goals now and as they grow their companies. 

“It is an entrepreneurial way to learn: by doing.”

It’s clear that The Leap Venture Studio has a lot of moving pieces, especially considering its varied founders and stakeholders. But Paige notes that teamwork is at the heart of everything Leap does.

“I think the program is successful because – and this is the same reason why anything is successful, at the end of the day – the team of people works really well together,” she says. What was initially curious to Paige was the fact that Mars, R/GA Ventures, and Michelson seemed like such different stakeholders on the surface but, in practice, served to make the group stronger.

“Our biggest mission is to make a smarter  world for pets and their people; as long as we’re aligned on that, that’s the most important thing.”

And the founders participating in the cohorts also benefit from the diverse perspectives of their peers.

“What I’ve really found in bringing the cohorts together is that we’re all teachers, and we’re all students,” says Paige. “We all have something to learn from each other.”

Paige has found this message of unity in more places than one since joining the Leap team. What’s taught her more than anything is hands-on experience with startup entrepreneurs and leaders in the pet care industry. “We see founders experience high highs and low lows, and we’re there alongside them. But we also see a community of people who they can lean on and connect with, which is what I’m most inspired by.”

Leap Continues to Push the Envelope

It’s been over a year since Paige joined the MFA team. Together, the team has spearheaded some major achievements by thinking outside the box and absorbing the know-how of the accomplished team.

Learning Leap inside and out helps Paige identify opportunities to launch the program’s impact even further. She quickly learned that Leap’s people were its lifeblood. 

“When I first joined Leap,” Paige tells us, “one of my biggest questions was: have we ever brought all of our portfolio companies together in one place to host an event for everyone? And it hadn’t ever been done before. So that became one of my biggest goals; I wanted to help make that happen.”

Last year, in June, the idea came to life.  Leap Venture Studio held its first portfolio summit, welcoming cohort members new and returning to get together. The summit aims to support those who have completed Leap’s studio program and drive new opportunities for collaboration and growth. 

The Leap team continues to assess and evaluate new ways to continue supporting startups in the pet care ecosystem. 

Paige and team at the first Leap Venture Studio Alumni Summit in Nashville, TN

Later on, in December, she attended a “Best in Show” pitch event at a pet care innovation summit in Los Angeles. As the winning pitches were announced, she quickly noticed that all four came from entrepreneurs who had gone through The Leap Venture Studio & Academy programs.

What struck Paige most was how much the pitches had evolved in the short time since she had last heard them. “We don’t take credit for that,” she says; the real champions are the startup founders. “But it’s incredible to be just a small part of it.”

It’s insights like these that keep the spring in Paige’s step and the spark plugs in her brain firing. The lessons Paige has already learned are reflected in the exciting new changes coming to the MFA cohort. Paige explains that the Leap team will be adding an “impact seat” to their programming – its goal is to celebrate companies that are doing meaningful work, and their ROI is best measured by their impact on the world. 

One company in particular – BestyBnB, which offers quick, safe locations for pets whose owners are in a crisis (visiting a domestic violence shelter, for instance) – inspired those at Leap to make the change. As Paige explains, “Some companies are doing such impactful work, but their unique business models serve a greater purpose beyond revenue.” The impact seat aims to give these sorts of startups a voice and exposure to other founders and industry leaders, giving them the tools necessary to bring their services to an even wider audience. 

The Leap Venture Studio wouldn’t be what it is without Paige’s leadership and undying passion. We’re grateful to Paige for all that she does for Leap. Her love for spearheading innovation in the pet care ecosystem keeps our mission alive and inspires founders from all walks of life to make their dreams a reality. Thank you, Paige, and we can’t wait to see what you do next!