Meaningful relationships are no longer only between people, said Davide Rossi, discussing the rise of pet innovators and an emerging market built on experiences with four-legged family members.
“They key thing is to recognize that the relationship between us and our pets has been changing,” said Rossi, co-founder of FitBark, a Kansas City-based pet tech wearables company. “Some of us, who are old enough, grew up in an environment when pets used to live outdoors. Fast forward a few years, and you started spending more time with them in the house, in the living room, and eventually they make their way into the hallway and then into the bedroom.”
Speaking to a crowd gathered for Startland’s October Innovation Exchange, Rossi was joined by fellow entrepreneurs Crystal K. Wiebe, founder of Beer Paws, and David Hensley, principal at Bar K Dog Bar.
Businesses like Bar K, which played host to the Tuesday evening event, hope to take advantage of a surging pet market that — despite increased consumer spending — hasn’t seen much innovation in terms of research and development among large, long-standing industry leaders, said Hensley.
“Our goal [at Bar K] was to really create a pet recreation space where you could come out and do all the things that you’d normally do: grab a drink, go to a meetup, go to an Innovation Exchange; but now you don’t have to leave your dog at home,” he said. “All of us on the panel, we’re trying to create new experiences with your dogs and almost create an entirely new market.”
Fitbark, for example, encourages shared exercise opportunities between dogs and their owners, as well as providing motivation and medical insights, Rossi said. Data from the wearables also is useful for insurance companies, food companies, dog walking companies and pharmaceutical companies, he said.
“When you start digging into this market, you find that it is absolutely enormous,” said Hensley. “If you look at the coffee business, that’s a $32 billion industry. The U.S. pet industry is twice that — it’s now over $70 billion. It’s growing [from $17 billion in 1994]. It’s been recession proof.”
That leaves room for all manner of startup endeavors — like Wiebe’s Beer Paws, which uses spent grains from craft brewers to produce treats and beer for dogs.
Who doesn’t want to share a beer with their dog? Wiebe asked the Innovation Exchange crowd.
“Most pet owners think of their dog as a family member, but historically you were leaving your family member locked at home — if you consider your dog as your best friend, you’re leaving your best friend locked at home,” Hensley said. “What we’re starting to see — and where innovation is headed — is toward humanizing that experience and inviting our family member to come along with us and experience life together.”
Check out a photo gallery from the event at Bar K Dog Bar below.