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First Dedicated Accelerator for $100B Pet Care Industry
Illinois Ag Connection - 03/13/2018

Mars Petcare, global leader in pet nutrition and health care; Michelson Found Animals Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to keeping animals in their homes; and R/GA Ventures announce the launch of the Leap Venture Studio (Leap): the first startup-centric accelerator program built to springboard innovation in the growing pet ecosystem.

Leap is targeting early-stage startups and offers access to strategic, financial, and creative resources to accelerate product development, develop industry partnerships, and refine business plans. Startups in the program will work closely with mentors from R/GA, Mars Petcare, Michelson Found Animals and their extended networks. At the end of the program, they will have the opportunity to pitch to investors and industry leaders.

"Together with Michelson Found Animals and R/GA we're taking the lead on creating the future of pet care by supporting the startup community," said Leonid Sudakov, President of Connected Solutions, the global ventures, genetics, data, and analytics division at Mars Petcare. "Mars Petcare has one purpose: 'Make a Better World for Pets.' and we will do that by becoming the partner of choice for founders seeking to turn their visions for the future of pet care into reality."

Leap comes at a time when the pet industry is positioned to experience significant growth and innovation, driven by Millennial pet ownership. According to a 2017 survey, Millennials now account for 35% of pet ownership, recently surpassing Baby Boomers in the market1. With this shift has come an increase in demand for modern and smart solutions to help them take better care of their pets. Pet spending is estimated to increase by more than 50% over the next five years, and sales in pet care and food exceeded $100B in 20172, according to Euromonitor International.

"Our lives are enriched by pets, and we use technology and science to obtain real, sustainable results that better the lives of pets and their people," said Dr. Gary Michelson, Founder of Michelson Found Animals Foundation. "We're excited about this opportunity to partner with other industry leaders to identify and foster meaningful innovations, and support the growing community of startups developing smart solutions for pets."

The 2018 Leap Venture Studio areas of Interest and Technology include:

- Pet Nutrition and Wellness

- Pet Health and Medical

- Pet Diagnostics

- Solutions/Platforms/Services for Pet Owners/Vets

- AI and Machine Learning

- Advanced Analytics

- Connected Products and Spaces

- Genetics

Participating startups will be split into two cohorts of six companies each. A customized team of R/GA's award-winning strategists, technologists, designers, and consultants will collaborate with the startups to help execute their business plans and prepare them for future milestones including fundraising, pitching, and business development. The startups will receive mentorship from industry executives and access to world-class partners. The program will conclude with the opportunity to secure funding from investors within Mars Petcare, Michelson Found Animals, and the broader venture capital community.

"R/GA is excited to collaborate with leaders like Mars Petcare and Michelson Found Animals to launch one of the first-ever pet-centric Venture Studios, leveraging our creative capital and network to create value for the participating companies," said Stephen Plumlee, Global Chief Operating Officer of R/GA and Managing Partner of R/GA Ventures.

Leap will take place in Portland, Oregon which is well-known for its pet-friendly culture. The program will be hosted at R/GA's office in the heart of the innovation-centric Pearl District.

Applications opened last week and admissions will roll throughout the year. The first program module will commence at the end of July with a Demo Day scheduled for the fall. Qualified candidates must have developed a Minimum Viable Product. Leap is open to companies at a variety of stages, from pre-seed to seed to Series A, and business models including B2B and B2C.

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