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Alumni Entrepreneurs Aim to Help Dog Owners Track Their Runaway Pets

Many like to search for adventure beyond the household property line, leading to anxiety for the dog owners and possible injury for the dogs as they may wander into dangerous situations while on the run.

Frustration at not being able to quickly locate their own dogs when they ran off led NC State College of Management alumni Chris Newton (MSM ’98) and Lewis Sheats (B.S., ’01) to form a new company earlier this year – Positioning Animals Worldwide, Inc. (PAW). Newton is chief executive officer and Sheats is vice president of operations.

“We started thinking about how to keep our dogs safe, and how to know where they are when they do run away,” Sheats said. “We investigated the market, made numerous calls, and visited trade shows to make sure there was a need – that it’s not just us who are having ‘lost dog’ situations,” Newton said. They discovered that they weren’t alone, and found a market and partner for their new company.

They announced the company’s first product earlier this year – the Spotlight GPS Pet Locator system. Its core component is a two and a half ounce electronic device that attaches to the dog’s collar. The device is always on, allowing the owner to continuously monitor a pet’s location via the Spotlight website.

As part of the system, the owner sets up one or two safe zones, called the ‘SafeSpot.’ The first is typically the perimeter of the owner’s property or fenced-in yard. The second SafeSpot could mark the approach to high traffic or other dangerous areas.

If the pet leaves the first safe zone, the system sends the pet owner a text or email message via mobile phone, notifying the owner that the dog has wandered away. Owners receive a second alert when the pet has passed through the second SafeSpot. If the owner has a smart phone with Web access, the system also will provide turn-by-turn directions to the dog.

At each stage, the system also sends a message to PAW’s partner in this project, the American Kennel Club’s Companion Animal Recovery (CAR) division. The AKC’s CAR staff will contact the dog’s owner and “will talk you to the dog’s location,” Newton said. “This provides an extra layer of security,” Newton said.

Two additional features help owners locate their pets. When the dog moves through the first safe zone, the device activates an LED beacon on the dog’s collar that helps the owner see where it is at night, up to 100 yards away. It also has an ‘If Found’ button on the device that, when pushed by someone who has found the dog, provides a phone number that the person can call to notify the system that the dog has been located.

“SpotLight is the only product that combines GPS tracking technology with the 24/7 AKC CAR recovery services, paving the way home for the millions of pets that go missing each year,” according to a recent PAW news release.

“Our mission is simple: to provide the market with products and services to reduce the number of lost pets. With an estimate of one-third of all dogs going missing at least once in their lifetime, SpotLight will help reduce this number significantly,” Newton said. “Through our partnership with AKC CAR, we are able to offer owners a simple solution that gives them peace of mind knowing that their dogs are safe at home or, should they escape, (that they can be) be quickly returned.”

“Pet recovery solutions have come a long way since collar ID tags to incorporate today’s advanced technologies, first with microchipping and, now, with the real-time tracking capabilities of GPS to enable the fastest possible recovery of lost dogs,” said Tom Sharp, CEO of AKC CAR.

“By using the combination of collar tags, microchips and GPS, caring owners can fully provide their pets with multiple layers of protection. Being able to offer our enrollees that level of service is extremely gratifying and we are confident that through this partnership with PAW we will be able to significantly reduce the number of lost pets,” he said.

Subscription to the service requires an upfront fee and a monthly fee that covers associated cellular communication expenses. Details are available on the PAW website.

“This could be a valuable service for responsible pet owners,” said Dr. Barbara Sherman, clinical associate professor in the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine. Escape of a beloved pet can happen for any reason, she said, including the dog running through a yard gate left open by mistake or darting through an open house door. “Such devices would be purchased by responsible pet owners who are concerned about the possibility that their pet will escape and, as a result, become injured or lost.”

The new business reflects Newton’s interest in technology based companies that evolved from his academic studies in the NC State Jenkins MBA program’s technology entrepreneurship commercialization (TEC) concentration.

A former engineer for a U.S. Department of Defense related company, Newton chose the TEC concentration while working toward his MBA degree.

“I met Pam (Bostic, director of the NC State Jenkins MBA Program in the College of Management), and she talked me into going through the program, and I’ve been thanking her and the TEC team ever since,” Newton said. Steve Markham, associate professor in the college’s Department of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, also has been a strong influence in his entrepreneurial activities, he said.

Newton’s previous ventures include serving as chairman and chief executive officer of Intervolve, and co-inventor of the technology behind Ensolve, a bio-mechanical oily water separator used in the maritime industry to prevent water pollution from bilge water.

Newton continues to stay involved with the NC State Jenkins MBA and other area universities through guest lecturing, business coaching and business plan judging.

Photo Cutline

Lewis Sheats, left, with his Husky Cinco, and Chris Newton with his two labradors, Tumi and Tiare. Cinco is shown at the right with the SpotLight device on his collar.

Related Links

SpotLight

PAW

NC State College Veterinary Medicine Animal Behavior Service

NC State Jenkins MBA Entrepreneurship & Technology Commercialization Concentration

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