Mobile vet startup wins inaugural Tiger Cage pitch contest, snags $6,000

An auditorium in the University of Missouri’s Cornell Hall teemed with business students on Friday – but class wasn’t in session.

The students, who packed the auditorium’s seats and lined the perimeter of the room, were gathered to watch the first Tiger Cage competition – MU’s spin on the television series “Shark Tank.” Six student teams pitched ideas for business ventures to a panel of three judges, who deliberated and awarded money to the top three teams.

Ajay Vinzé, dean of the Trulaske College of Business, and Mun Choi, president of the University of Missouri System, kicked off the event, summing up the reason for the competition: the entrepreneurial spirit.

“When you think of business, entrepreneurship is the most raw form of business. This is what it’s all about,” Vinzé said. “True entrepreneurs … are people who run the full spectrum of everything in that company.”

The competition, which is in its first year, is a collaboration between the MU Department of Management and the Missouri Innovation Center.

The winning team, two doctoral veterinary students and a third student earning an MBA, created a business called House Collars. The company, born out of Startup Weekend Columbia in October, provides home veterinary care to recovering pets.

“Our qualified veterinary nurses travel to the pet’s home and administer the care as prescribed by their veterinarian,” said Wendy Evans, a veterinary student who pitched to the judges. “Essentially, the furry cousin to human home health.”

House Collars aims to make care more convenient for owners, alleviate the confusion of a complicated care regimen, and reduce pet and owner stress caused by moving the pet from home to the vet.

The students conducted a three-month pilot program and found a market for their business, said Justin Plassmeyer, the MBA student.

“We identified a unique need we refer to as ‘vet tech sitting,’ in which we were able to send trained professionals into the clients’ homes to allow them to service pets with special needs,” Plassmeyer said.

Evans noted that House Collars would fill a market gap. In Missouri, an owner can hire dog-walkers – but these people can’t provide medical treatment. Larger cities, such as San Francisco, offer mobile vet clinics, but these are expensive.

House Collars finds a happy medium, Evans said. Using veterinary nurses offers clients a low-cost option, but the nurses have high mobility. Veterinary nurses are not competitors with veterinarians, Evans said. On the contrary, the nurses free up time for veterinarians to perform surgeries.

During the pilot program, the students had more than 100 appointments and earned $3,500 in revenue. One hundred percent of the clients rebooked, they said.

“What’s really cool about this is that we were able to do this without any advertising at all,” Evans said. “It was only word of mouth.”

After the teams pitched their ideas, the three judges deliberated in a separate room. Brant Bukowsky, co-founder and co-owner of Veterans United; Larry Potterfield, founder and CEO of MidwayUSA; and Dave Spence, CEO and owner of Legacy Pharmaceutical Packaging, judged the teams.

Cheers erupted when the judges announced House Collars as the winner, and Evans and Plassmeyer embraced.

House Collars was awarded $6,000, which the team said would go toward a marketing campaign and legal fees. The team said it has identified Denver and Nashville as cities where their business would thrive. Vet technicians have high autonomy in both cities, they said, and the pet population is high.

Quetza, an educational software that simulates cow breeding outcomes, won second place and was awarded $5,000. Kolu, an app that would pair tourists with local tour guides, won third place and got $4,000.

To the surprise of the audience, Spence said he would personally award $1,000 of his own money to the remaining three teams.

“Everyone needs a hand up,” he said, “And the harder you work, the luckier you get.”

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