When you think about a startup in North Carolina, your mind might immediately go to the Research Triangle. But as we’ve seen, entrepreneurial innovation is actually happening all over the state—including the coastal town of Wilmington.
There are many success stories from Wilmington’s startup scene, but perhaps none are more interesting—and garnering more attention outside of the region—than Petrics. Founded by Ed Hall last year, Petrics is a pet healthcare technology startup that is developing a sophisticated platform that allows pet owners to better manage their pet’s health.
“Our internet of things consumer pet products and software gives pet owners an automated way to care for their pets as if they were a trained veterinarian, nutritionist or behaviorist without needing all the schooling and education,” says Hall, who is a graduate of UNC-Wilmington’s Cameron School of Business and previously worked at Elite Innovations, Wilmington’s first makerspace. “Pets gain a level of caregiving independence while pet owners can rest assured knowing their pet’s health is being looked after 24/7 so they can spend more time enjoying their pets and less time managing them.”
Petrics was recently selected, among 235 applicants, for the New Ventures Challenge accelerator by Flywheel, located in Winston-Salem. As part of the program, Petrics received a $5,000 investment and is eligible for up to $50,000 at the end of the program. Petrics was the only company from outside North Carolina’s Triad region (Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point) to be selected.
We sat down with Hall to find out more about his company and what it’s like to be a part of Wilmington’s burgeoning startup scene.
Where did the idea for Petrics come from?
The idea for Petrics started because my mom was constantly struggling with her three cats and a dog because they would eat each others food. She would complain to me about the problem, and so I decided to come up with a solution. Once I had some ideas and assumptions on how to solve it, I contacted top animal science schools like NC State and Cornell to ask their experts if the system I was building would be valuable for pet owners and for professionals. They confirmed it would be of significant value, and so the journey began.
When will the technology be ready for pet owners? And how do you plan to market it?
We are still pre-product launch and have been doing testing with our working prototypes. We have been keeping some product details close to the chest until we are a little closer to launch. But, expect to see some more details coming out in the near future on our website. We will be selling to pet owners directly, however, we are currently looking at some potential partnerships with organizations that support the need to prevent the obesity epidemic for cats and dogs, and want to provide the best solution for diet and health management for pet owners. I will say we have had significant support from animal hospitals and are looking to speak with more.
How would you describe the startup scene in Wilmington? And what are its biggest strengths and weaknesses?
Wilmington’s startup scene is really growing. It has been so great to see all the entrepreneurs, supporters and activity in the area. Just recently Petrics was selected to present at the NCTA State of Technology conference along with three other tech startups from Wilmington, Likeli, Lapetus and Performance Culture. I honestly didn’t think I would have made it up there with companies such as these. I was over the moon when I found out we made it on stage with companies I look up to. There were only six selections made, and so having four of six tech companies being from Wilmington at a big tech conference like that is a big statement when you consider we are competing with Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Charlotte, Winston-Salem and pretty much every other city more known for tech startups.
People like Jim Roberts, George Taylor, Brett Martin, Ron Vetter, Ann Revell-Pechar, Mike Hunter, Liz Marion and Andrew Williams, and organizations like TekMountain, The UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Elite Innovations, Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) and the SBTDC have really helped to culminate this growth and inspire the community of entrepreneurs that didn’t know where to go or how to tackle their ideas. Let’s face it, these things would not be possible without supporters like these, and that, in my opinion is one of our biggest strengths.
The only thing I notice as a potential weakness is sometimes efforts can become isolated to groups, siloed if you will. I personally feel we could achieve a lot more as a community if more synergies and win-wins were found between efforts across organizations and groups. Some groups have better access to funding where other groups have better access to networking, mentorships or partnerships. It shouldn’t be treated as a this or that option.
You’ve had some success in securing funding, so what would you say is your biggest piece of advice to other startups when it comes to this very daunting process?
Haha, I’m still trying to figure that out myself. Definitely find investors, networks or funds that invest in your space and have experience in it. For instance, if you have a potential investor that has only invested in software their whole life, then it can be a more difficult and longer sell to get them to be comfortable with a hardware startup to invest into. Additionally, if you find groups that have experience in your space, they will also more than likely have a lot of experience or networks to accelerate your company by filling gaps.
As you’re trying to raise money, what impact does that have on your participation in your startup ecosystem? Do you ever feel like you’re in competition with your comrades? If so, how do you overcome that feeling?
That’s actually a very good question. I would say there are times I feel that way, but I’m also happy for everyone. It’s a part of the game we all signed up for, and let’s face it, it is a zero-sum game. Each investor has limits on how much they are willing to invest based on income and net worth. So, a group may only have enough room for a certain amount of investments until one of their existing companies exits. If all the active investors have invested their max, then other companies must seek investment somewhere else, which can be hard for a startup since that may be the only network or investment community they know.
Making mistakes—it happens to all founders. What’s the biggest or most surprising one you’ve made and what would your advice be to other founders?
Try to get sales and validation with customers as early as possible. Early on, I spent more time on the ‘how’ it would work and focusing on building a working prototype thinking it would lead to faster investment. But, customer validation and sales holds more weight with investors and proving out a concept than the working prototype. You can sell an idea of a product to a customer just from high fidelity Looks-Like renders and animations and explaining your product value proposition on the ‘why’ they should buy it. Even a great explainer video can go a long way! We could’ve spent significantly less time and money on just that and doing customer surveys and seeing if people would buy our product and have plenty of data, feedback, customer validation and pre-orders for the investors. People buy products online all the time without physically touching or seeing the product and there are definitely ways to take advantage of that buying behavior.