Culture & Trends

Leap Awards $90K in Surprise Grants for BIPOC/Female Bootcamp

Unlocking doors to diversity in pet care is the first step to tearing those doors off their hinges.

Oct, 1 2020

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Leap Venture Academy's annual Bootcamp surprised its participants last week by granting $20,000 in seed money to one of their number. The group had been asked to pick the company that could have the biggest impact on pet care, but was not told there would be prize money. They selected Woof Together, a pet travel startup making the hospitality industry dog-friendlier, as the company most representative of Leap’s mission.

When it came time to reveal the winner, Leap partner, and Kinship's Director of Ventures & Partnerships, Asad Butt revealed to the group that they had chosen Woof Together for not only recognition but the significant sum. Furthermore, all other Bootcamp participants received $5,000. Altogether, the fifteen startups in attendance received $90,000 in funding.

"This amazing community of inspiring Founders, that I had the honor to meet through the Leap Bootcamp, deserved to be rewarded for their talent, commitment, and progress,” said Elena Dede, CEO & Co-Founder of Woof Together. “Being part of the Leap community was the greatest award after all." 

She said that her company will use the money "to create unique, engaging, meaningful content both for pet-friendly hoteliers and travelers with dogs. We will also invest part of the grant to expand our sales internship program and grow as a business.”

Bootcamp is a free program for underrepresented pet care entrepreneurs working on an early-stage idea or company. Each day of the week-long seminar has a unique focus: branding and messaging, growth, fundraising, leadership, and on the final day: diversity, equity, and inclusion. That education varies in form to round out the learning experience; Founders participate in classes, workshops, and fireside chats with senior figures in the industry.

The speakers and mentors include Leap partners, graduates from previous years, and Leap portfolio companies, such as AnimalBiome, Bark Buildings, Dogdrop, Native Pet, and Pet Plate, all sharing their successes and struggles as startups.

"The connections with the participating Founders are equally valuable as the mentors and sessions, said Dr. Cindy Trice, DVM, CEO & Founder of Relief Rover, a professional membership platform for veterinarians and nurses, offering networking, opportunities, and resources. She received useful advice about her revenue model from both groups, and changed her view of stakeholder roles. "I can't say I walked away with complete clarity and assurances that my business will succeed, but I now have an amazing network of mentors and fellow Founders to draw upon as I continue to build a business and execute on my mission to help veterinarians stay engaged and satisfied with clinical practice."

Networking opportunities are immensely important in industries with inclusion issues, which includes pet care. Unlocking doors to diversity in pet care is the first step to tearing those doors off their hinges. While Bootcamp’s original aim to amplify female Founders remains intact, the program expanded this year to deliberately attract BIPOC entrepreneurs of any gender. 

The Bark Shoppe CEO Melissa Mitchner, who has been thoroughly present on Leap programs, spoke to the reality of the venture landscape as a Black woman. "Women are not raising the same amount of money as men. Black women are not raising as much money as their peers," she said, describing the pitching process in such a landscape as exhausting. "I may not have the financial capital but I have the human capital. As a CEO, I am supercharged to open the door for the next generation of people of color within the pet care industry." She cautioned entrepreneurs to be judicious about the expertise of their investors, and whether they align with a company's values.

Sometimes that community reimagines solutions, as when Adoptimize's Jessica Schleder realized midway through the Bootcamp, "My hyper-focus on the mission of my social enterprise (increasing the adoption rates of pets in shelters) is limiting Adoptimize’s ability to grow and ultimately impact even more pets’ lives. In my conversations this week not only did I realize that Adoptimize has solved this problem, but that there are so many other opportunities to generate revenue with advertising and sponsorships, which means I can offer Adoptimize free to shelters who need it most. Win-win-win!"

Schleder wasn't the only one who realized she needed to pivot after mentor consultation. MaryMac's Doggie Retreat Founder Courtney McWilliams was looking to do so while solving a problem of the times. "My biggest concern was growth," said the owner of the boutique doggie daycare and spa that specializes in soothing anxious dogs. "How can I grow and scale a brick and mortar shop? Prior to COVID-19, MaryMac's was focused on daycare and boarding. Since COVID, my business has taken a major pivot and became more of a grooming salon than a doggie daycare. After speaking with a mentor, I’m considering becoming a grooming salon only."

Adrian Archie, Founder of petNmind Naturals, was in a very similar predicament, and the Bootcamp was able to suggest a stronger position for his holistic pet supply store's growth. He said his fundraising is accelerated by new strategies and considerations. 

"Prior to the bootcamp, partnerships were not even on my radar, but now I see them as integral to getting my franchise business model off the ground,” he said. "Knowledge that it would have taken years to gain on my own, I got in one week interacting in my Leap cohort. I do not know of another venue where I could meet such a diverse and successful group of leaders in the pet industry. I do not have the deep list of contacts as a minority owner so meeting one or two influential people would exceed expectations. Yet with Leap I had to make sure I organized all of the contacts I gained so that I do not forget." 

Cementing the fact that change comes through community, Dede underscored the weight of this year’s cohort in its members’ careers. 

"The most important lesson from the workshop is that a startup's superpower lies with building networks and communities. As Founders we start a business to change the world," she said. "Leap Bootcamp made us revisit our business model, unlock our potential and focus on setting priorities in order to become a benchmark in pet-friendly hospitality, generating value both for the hospitality industry and millions of pet parents worldwide."

The 15 pet care startups selected to participate in this year’s bootcamp were:

Leap Venture Studio is now accepting applications for its 4th program starting in February 2021. Deadline to apply is October 15, 2020.

For more information, please visit: www.leapventurestudio.com

Leap Venture Studio The first startup-centric program built to power early-stage pet startups with seed money, mentoring, and a network of pet pros.