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Kingston native’s company wins Queen’s UPStart Venture Challenge

Kerri-Lynn McAllister (left), founder and CEO of Pawzy, accepts a $30,000 from Queen’s Venture Network after winning the 2019 Queen’s UPStart Pitch Competition in Toronto on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. Submitted photo.

It’s not all that common for the founder and CEO of a company to be able to say that company is “Kingston approved,” but for Kerri-Lynn McAllister, when she talks about her company, Pawzy, it’s 100 per cent true.

That’s because McAllister’s Cavalier King Charles spaniel is named after the city where she grew up and attended university. That’s right, McAllister’s dog is named Kingston. And Kingston (the dog), along with her little sister, Kennedy, approve of all things Pawzy, McAllister explained.

Kingston, McAllister’s King Charles spaniel.

“Every piece of advice, recommended service and dog toy is 100 per cent Kingston – and Kennedy – approved,” McAllister said of the content of her business, Pawzy, a new online company based in Toronto that aims to give pet owners the tools and information they need to connect with the best advice and services pertaining to pet health and wellness.

In fact, Pawzy has a lot of Kingston connections, besides McAllister’s dog. McAllister was born in Kingston, raised on Wolfe Island, and attended Queen’s University at the Smith School of Business (Comm ’07). It was at Queen’s that McAllister met her now business partner, Robert Marsh, Pawzy’s first investor and advisory board member. And Kingston resident John Sheridan also sits on that advisory board.

“Rob is a leader in the insurance industry, an area we will be exploring with pet insurance, and John brings decades of executive leaderships experience as the former President and COO of Bell Canada, and now as an angel investor,” McAllister said of her team, which also includes Emma Harris, the former CEO at Healthy Pets, Canada’s first vet telehealth service, who recently joined Pawzy and will be an important leader in building Pawzy’s future in pet healthcare services.

So, perhaps it is fitting that a company with so many connections to Kingston would find itself the winner of the Queen’s UPStart Venture Challenge, a pitch competition led by Queen’s University Venture Network to accelerate alumni-founded business. On Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, Pawzy was named the winner of the UPStart Venture Challenge, walking away with a $30,000 prize. The company was up against 40 applications in the Challenge, eight of which presented on Tuesday, Dec. 3.

And McAllister has already allocated those funds to expand Pawzy’s services for pet owners.

“We will be using the money to engineer our vet clinic finder, and kickstart marketing and sales,” she said, noting the importance of the role the Queen’s University Venture Network plays.

“It’s great that Queen’s continues to support alumni long after we have graduated,” McAllister said. “Smith School of Business really taps into its network similar to how we see private schools in the US do. It’s not common here in Canada.”

Pawzy only launched in September of this year, but is already gaining traction amongst dog owners in Canada, as well as those looking to become dog owners. A marketplace platform that will allow pet owners to connect with health providers and services, as well as connecting with veterinarians on-demand, the company launched with a proprietary breed selector tool to pair potential pet parents to an ideal dog for them, as well as veterinary-approved dog advice within its detailed breed guides and, for the first time in Canada, a hub for access to both breeders and adoption agencies on one platform.

An example of the Pawzy breed selector tool at www.Pawzy.co.

Like many great companies, Pawzy was came about after McAllister found herself looking for something that wasn’t available.

“As a pet parent to two King Charles spaniels named Kingston and Kennedy, I saw the lack of resources online. There wasn’t a website where I could compare essential pet care services like veterinary care or insurance. When Kingston needed dental work, for example, I found price differences that were upwards of $500 depending on the vet offices. It was quite a difference for the same amount of work, which really shows the need to compare prices and options,” McAllister said.

McAllisters two King Charles spaniels, Kingston (left) and Kennedy.

“Then, when I was looking for a laparoscopic spay for Kennedy, I had to call around to find a vet office that did the procedure. There wasn’t one place where I could search for available vet procedures, compare opening hours, prices, and other factors. Thus, Pawzy was born.”

McAllister explained that Pawzy developed all of their content and resources based on Google data, such as what questions and information pet owners are searching for online.

“The first thing we learned is that dog parents are searching for breed-specific advice. So, we developed a lot of our content around the top 100 dog breeds, and then we built a proprietary dog breed selector,” she said.

“The interactive dog breed quiz uses 20 key characteristics of the top 100 dog breeds (for a total 2,000 data points) to pair the perfect pup with potential parents.”

The breed selector took in action.

There are some things that Pawzy takes into consideration which a lot of potential dog owners don’t often think about, McAllister expressed.

“A lot of Canadians select a dog based on their appearance, and do not take into account things like their personality, lifestyle, and living situation,” she explained.

“In order to avoid re-homing and to ensure all dogs are placed in loving ‘furever’ homes, a dog’s appearance should not be the sole or primary selection criteria — at the end of the day, all dogs are cute!”

And, like any other company in its first year of business, Pawzy is just getting started. The company is solely focusing on dogs at this time for a couple of reasons, the first one being that dogs are what McAllister knows. But the company has also found that there are over 50 million dog-related Google searches annually in Canada. As the company expands, it plans to add information about mixed breed dogs and cats.

Additionally, the company plans to move into veterinary services in early 2020, and pet insurance thereafter.

“If you think about the lifecycle of pet ownership, pet parents generally seek out a vet as a first step before exploring insurance or other health services. Plus, less than 1% per cent of pets are insured in the US. I don’t have the figure for Canada but I can’t imagine it to be significantly different,” McAllister said. “We hope to lead the charge for more pets being insured for accidents and unanticipated illnesses, but it will be an uphill battle.”

Pawzy is 100 per cent free for users, and, at the same time, conscious of the important role it can play in the lives of its users and their pets, McAllister expressed.

“We want to build lifelong relationships with pet parents as their trusted pet health and wellness advisor. If you are a pet parent in need of healthcare advice or a vet, you come to us first,” she said.

“Our grand vision is to improve the accessibility and affordability of pet care, and we’ve pledged 1 per cent of our business to animal charities through the Upside Foundation.”

So how does it feel to have her alma mater from her home town endorsing Pawzy in such a big way?

“Kingston is a large part of the Pawzy story… I even have a dog named after the city!” McAllister said.

“It’s nice to have the support, not only from Queen’s, but friends and family back home. They are the biggest supporters and have sent nice messages that keep us motivated.”

To find out more about Pawzy, go to www.Pawzy.co

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