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Purina Unleashes Pet Startup Funding

Who let the funds out? Pet-food giant’s ‘Unleashed’ accelerator program has returned, offering British sustainable pet care startups the opportunity to secure up to £40000 in funding. Now in its third consecutive year, Purina’s pet project hopes to train up disruptive pet care companies that change the way we feed, keep, clean and care for our beloved four-legged friends. In the UK, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) estimates that 44% of households have pets, making for around 51 million animal companions in over 12 million households. The dog food market alone is worth 1.4 billion GBP, and with the number of lockdown pets joining our families in 2020-21, pet company profits are surely not going to go to the dogs. 

This year, however, Purina is shifting its focus away from dogs’ dinners, and into sustainability. The prize is focussing on awarding startups that use green technology to reduce carbon emission, promote sustainable production and implement zero-waste systems. The program’s website describes itself as ‘designed to be at the cutting edge of the next generation in pet services’, using ‘novel nutrition and health technologies to strengthen the bond and the lives of our pets and their owners. Driven by our mission to keep our pets and owners content, we want to bring relevant new products and services to pets and their families in today’s connected society and take advantage of the latest consumer trends.”

To be in the running to be thrown a financial bone, startups should show the following attributes:

Disruptiveness. The winning startup must use inventive ways of bringing value to the pet industry, its customers, and most of all pets. Previous 2021 winner Animoscope fit this description, providing a digital platform for pet parents to easily access expert healthcare advice and prevention services, reducing their dependence on costly vet surgery consultations. 

Innovation. Finding creative and simple ways to solve issues facing anybody with a pet. 2020’s winning UK startup BorrowMyDoggy solved the problem of dog walking for busy owners, using data from Purina’s own Pets At Work program to create a peer-to-peer dogwalking platform. On the app, users can find other pet lovers willing to walk their dog when they are unable to do so, while the walker earns a monetary treat.

Sustainability. Making sure the startup actively demonstrates commitment to reducing emissions, and uses innovative tech to promote a greener way of keeping pets. Biokind, another of last year’s winners, won its funding by creating a sustainable meat alternative pet-safe protein derived from agricultural waste. 

Scalability. Can the startup grow and compete in the pet care space? UK breeder-focussed platform PuppyFat allows breeders to keep the best breeding records, improving animal health and ending breeding-driven animal cruelty. The company plans to eventually expand worldwide.

As Europe’s first and only pet care accelerator lab, Purina’s Unleashed selects only the best in show. Competition is indeed fierce, with around 120 applications in 2020, based in 128 countries. However, 2020’s winning start-ups saw such success through the Unleashed mentoring programme that Purina have now engaged 2 of them in a continuation of the Unleashed Accelerator called the Unleashed Incubator. Another received a 3-year proof-of-business partnership, and yet another secured a joint research and development agreement. You’d be barking mad to miss this! 

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