General Division Winner

Anser Innovation
General Division Winner

There are pet owners, and then there are pet owners—those who consider themselves pet parents and treat their animals like members of the family. These owners detest leaving their animals alone, and they crave the serenity of knowing that their furry friends are calm and happy without them. 

Anser Innovation LLC, a Burnsville-based technology company, developed a new product to open the lines of communication between pets and their owners, putting pet parents at ease. Called PetChatz, the device creates a remote connection and multisensory interaction between owners and their pets, allowing owners to see, hear, and talk with their animal—and even dispense treats and comforting smells. 

Earlier this year, CEO Lisa Lavin teamed with inveterate inventor Mark Kroll, who holds the most medical device patents in the world. He came up with the PetChatz concept and has two patents and one pending patent for the technology. A seasoned entrepreneur herself in animal care and health care products, as well as an authority on veterinary radiography, Lavin knew this pet-focused telecommunication device was a winner.

“When Mark talked about this pet telecommunications product, light bulbs started going off,” says Lavin. That’s because 73 million households in the United States have pets, and pet owners collectively spent $48.4 billion on their animals in 2010. Additionally, overall spending on pets has doubled in the past decade. 

Anser will focus on the pet parent category, about one-third of all pet owners, who spend 50 percent to 66 percent more on their pets than the average animal owner.  

“This is a new way for people to connect and interact with their pets, and it’s really fun because it provides people with peace of mind,” adds Lavin. 

Owners can plug PetChatz into the wall at home or in a hotel room, or bring it to the kennel where their pet is staying. Through an application on their computer or smartphone, they can observe their pet, or they can speak to the animal and call Scruffy over. They can emit comforting smells to the pet or dispense a treat. And that’s another ingenious aspect of the business, Lavin says: Anser will sell the PetChatz device, but it also will bring in revenue from the consumables that go with it, such as the scent packs and treats—the classic razor-blade business model. Anser already lined up a strategic partnership with a premier pet food manufacturer to sell co-branded treats, which opens up the established company’s sales channels to PetChatz.

With no regulatory approval required, the device will be available at pet stores and online by 2012. Lavin expects to break even in the first year of sales on Anser’s way to selling $55 million in devices in its fifth year. With treat packs, sales will be even higher. PetChatz won’t be Anser’s only product. Lavin says there are other scenarios for which its technology could facilitate remote connection and interaction that’s not possible now.

For example, the company sees opportunity for its technology to help loved ones assist aging adults with medication management. The technology also could provide more interactive communication between parents and older children who have special needs or require extra help. Anser is now assessing those opportunities and working on the intellectual property for those channels. 

“We’re going to play in more than just the retail pet space,” says Lavin, who has 20 years of senior leadership experience building businesses and commercializing new products and services—including a stint at 3M.

Lavin and her founding partners, Kroll and his son Braden Kroll, have high hopes for PetChatz. The company conducted a national survey with 430 consumers in 28 states: 76 percent of pet parents gave the product and their interest in buying it the highest possible survey ranking.