Los Angeles-based startup Petnet announced today that it has landed a $1.125 million seed round from Grishin Robotics, Kima Ventures, SparkLabs Global Ventures, and Launch Capital. Petnet (a different company from the Australian pet supply seller of the same name) will use the investment to commercialize its first product, the Smartfeeder, which is scheduled to ship to customers in the middle of this year.
Over the last few years, the pet care industry has proven to be relatively recession-proof. According to statistics from the American Pet Products Association, spending on pet products has continued to grow steadily, even after the global financial crisis in 2008. In 2013, spending in the U.S. hit an estimated $55.53 billion, with most of that amount, or $21.26 billion, going toward food.
The pet care market is also growing around the world and was expected to hit $96 billion in sales by the end of 2013, according to analysis firm Euromonitor.
Pet owners are willing to pamper their fur babies even if it means making financial cuts in other areas. In fact, some animals might be getting a little bit too much pampering. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention says that an estimated 54 percent of dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese, due in large part to overfeeding.
Roly-poly animals are cute, but the extra weight can lead to long-term health problems, like diabetes, heart or kidney disease, joint conditions, and cancer. These conditions not only cause vet bills to mount up, but also reduce a pet’s quality of life and can ultimately shorten its lifespan.
Pet food dispensers already for sale that seek to address overfeeding include the Petmate Le Bistro Portion-Control Automatic Pet Feeder, which uses a timer, as well as the Gatefeeder, a dispenser that uses a Smart ID attached to collars to figure out when to release cat food.
Petnet wants to differentiate by creating a pet feeder that taps into the Internet of Things. The $199 SmartFeeder features “intelligent sensor technology, learning algorithms, and processing power that assesses the dietary requirements of a pet, creates a custom feeding schedule to meet those requirements, alerts pet owners when their pet has been fed and even reminds owners to purchase more food when they run low,” says the company. Demand appears to be strong so far. Petnet has already received over 10,000 pre-orders for the SmartFeeder.
The SmartFeeder joins a growing roster of pet care supplies and accessories, including Bluetooth LE-enabled pet tracker Puppy, and toys like Petcube and Egg that are all controlled by an online app.
Petnet received initial funding while participating in Bolt, a seed-stage fund and incubator in Boston for hardware startups. In addition to commercializing SmartFeeder, the company says it will use its seed round to enhance the product’s technology, hire more people, and develop other projects. Petnet CEO Carlos Hererra, who grew up in L.A., also wants Petnet to mentor high school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
In a statement, Dmitry Grishin, founder of Grishin Robotics, an investment company, said “Even the simplest things around us are quickly becoming robots these days. Through unique combinations of powerful hardware, smart software, and internet-connectivity, Petnet is a perfect example of this trend. I am confident in the company’s ability to successfully tackle the worldwide pet health challenge and disrupt the multi-billion dollar industry.”