Teen’s Invention Helps Keep Dogs Happy While Their Owners Are Away
While many teenagers are dreaming about the lazy days of summer, 14-year-old Brooke Martin is looking forward to a summer of patents, production lines, distribution and marketing.
But Martin doesn’t mind. This precocious Spokane, Wash., teen has been working for nearly two years to launch her invention, iCPooch, an Internet-enabled device that lets dog owners remotely video chat with their pets and deliver a treat to them, all with the touch of a smartphone, tablet or computer. And today it makes its debut at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla.
An Idea With Legs
It began as a creative class assignment from Martin’s eighth-grade teacher: conduct an independent project on anything that interests you. Martin chose entrepreneurship.
After researching the topic, Martin wanted to experience what it was like to create a business herself. “I decided to come up with an idea and pitch it at the local Startup Weekend,” she says. Startup Weekends are regional events where entrepreneurs present their ideas to the other people in attendance. The best ideas get a weekend’s worth of collaboration by participants.
But first she had to come up with a business idea. “I started brainstorming problems that needed solutions,” Martin says.
The now high school freshman considered many ideas, but one that stuck with her was the issue of separation anxiety in dogs. Her shelter dog, Kayla, had suffered from it after the Martins adopted her. Martin says the Golden Retriever would become anxious and chew destructively when the family was away. Martin likes to use video chat platform Skype to keep in touch with her friends, so that gave her an idea. “I thought it would be cool to Skype with your dog, make them feel better, and give them a treat,” she says.
She developed a 60-second “pitch” about her concept and prepared to present to the all-adult audience at the weekend event. “I was kind of nervous, but how are you ever going to learn if you don’t try?” she says.
Martin’s concept was a hit, earning the most number of votes among the Startup Weekend audience and the opportunity to work with fellow entrepreneurs on her project throughout the weekend. “It was a lot of fun,” she says.
That might have been the end of her class project. But, after the invigorating weekend, Martin’s parents asked her if she wanted to keep working on her idea. She did, so she and her father, Chris, began building prototypes in their garage.
It was clear Martin wasn’t the only one who believed her idea was a good one. That spring, she entered and won second place in the national Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, which, among other things, allowed her to spend the summer developing and testing her idea with a 3M scientist mentor.
After trial and error with prototypes, then more testing and development, the product evolved into a standalone plastic unit that has a Wi-Fi-enabled tablet mounted on the side of it. Pet owners can "call" their pets remotely from their computer, tablet or smartphone. Like with a video conference, the pet will see his owner's face on the screen and hear his owner's voice through the speakers. The owner can also hear and see the dog. Then, with the click of a mouse or swipe of a touch screen, the owner can activate a mechanism inside the unit that delivers a treat through a chute and into a tray at the bottom of the unit, where the dog can access it.
After continued encouragement, Martin and her parents established a management team and set out to raise capital to develop the product's Skype-like technology and for production, marketing and other business expenses. They found individual investors and an investment group within their community to help fund the startup. Then the iCPooch team tapped into Kickstarter, an online fundraising tool where individuals can donate to a business or cause they're interested in supporting. The Kickstarter campaign raised nearly $30,000 in additional funding for the project.
The Marketplace and Beyond
Martin's iCPooch debuts today at Global Pet Expo. With early retail interest and positive feedback, the company is poised to begin its first manufacturing run in April. Martin and the iCPooch team are ready to continue talks with retailers and distributors about their plans.
No matter what happens from here, Martin knows that the experience has been invaluable. “I’ve been amazed by the support and the positive reaction I’ve received from people,” she says. “So many people and professionals have taken time and energy to help us and give me advice. It’s overwhelming and amazing.”
Along with her iCPooch work, Martin keeps busy with her other favorite pastimes — riding her two horses, playing piano and violin, and spending time with friends. As for her career aspirations, "I'm excited to see where this will go," she says. "But I'm also very interested in medicine."