WisBusiness: Two emerging companies look to profit from pets

By Jessica Schaeffer

For WisBusiness.com

People will spend $45.4 billion on their pets this year alone, according to the American Pet Products Association, creating a large market that entrepreneurs are wagging their tails over.

White Bear Technologies and Unique Beast are two such companies that have created products to satisfy the growing number of animal lovers willing to spend money on their beloved pets.

Around 40 companies presented innovative products and ideas such as these this month at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium in either a seven minute presentation or in the shorter Elevator Pitch Olympics.

RoamEO Pet Location Systems by White Bear Technologies is a pet-tracking device that use thes Global Positioning System to locate and contain animals, especially dogs.

“It has become very practical to use GPS,” said Mark Mitchell, founder of White Bear Technologies in New Brighton, Minn. “One out of every two dogs will go missing in its lifetime, we are told from the Humane Society.”

White Bear Technologies is expanding its market from the typical working dogs to the 75 million companion pets in United States’ households.

“People feel very strongly about dogs,” Mitchell said. “We want to reduce the anxiety created when someone loses their pet.”

RoamEO Classic, a tracking device with a liquid crystal display (LCD) color screen, and the RoamEO Pup, a similar product but with a monochromatic screen and fewer features, are already available on the market.

These devices can track up to two dogs, have rechargeable batteries that last between 18 to 30 hours and cost up to $279.95 for a receiver and a collar.

White Bear Technologies has sold 8,000 units so far since 2004 and company leaders are excited to launch their new products and attend the symposium, Mitchell said.

These products, which are expected next year, include a device that will transmit the pet’s GPS coordinates to a computer or web-enabled cell phone and a containment system that creates a fence using GPS coordinates and sounds an alarm when the animal exits the perimeter.

“We are hoping to create more awareness of this technology and to help get as many different applications of it into the mainstream,” said Mitchell, on his hopes for the Early Stage Symposium.

Sasquatch Pet Beds by Unique Beast of Middleton, Wis., are animal beds resembling the popular Crocs shoe with a removable interior “sock” designed for a small to medium pet to comfortably sleep.

“We chose ‘Sasquatch’ because we wanted a name that would be remembered and goes along with the product,” said Tony Deitch, president of Unique Beast. “It comes from the legend of Big Foot and that goes perfectly with our slogan, ‘Original big foot for your little beast.'”

This 31-inch long, 14-inch tall and 14-inch wide bed was given to President Obama to welcome the first’s family’s new family dog, was featured on the CBS Early Show, and has received multiple awards including Las Vegas’ SuperZoo Trade Show Best New Product Award.

“Pets have always been associated with footwear,” Deitch said. “Whether they are chewing on them, playing with the shoe laces or just laying on them.”

These beds, priced at $99.95 each, are made out of the same material as Crocs shoes and claim to overcome the usual problems of other pet beds that become dirty and need replacement after minimal use.

“They are very lightweight, easy to clean, non-marking and antimicrobial,” Deitch said. “They even float if you want to put them in your pool!”

Three thousand units have been sold since 2007 and a new product called the Yeti was launched on Sept. 15, an originally designed shoe bed marketed for small cats or dogs.

Deitch, who worked for Crocs from 2005 to 2007, learned from watching the company’s fast growth to think about the future.

“That job taught me to think big, think globally,” Deitch said. “I’m looking for a chance to network and perhaps find investors who are interested in the concept in order to get some working capital. We want to grow to international sales.”

— Schaeffer is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.