Reaching for the SKY(Paws)

Reaching for the SKY(Paws)

May 14, 2021 Off By Roberta Johnston

Contributed by Maggie Berger, [email protected]

Stephanie Young, a senior animal science major in the Texas A&M University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, turned from a student to a CEO after developing a lifesaving vitals monitoring device for pets, called SKYPaws. Young used her knowledge gained through opportunities provided to her as a Texas A&M student to partner with Brianna Armstrong, DVM, a recent graduate from Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and former animal science student, to invent SKYPaws.

SKYPaws is a tool they hope will help veterinarians change their level of care for animals pre- and post-surgery.

Finding lifesaving solutions

Young didn’t start out with a desire to be an entrepreneur. Growing up in a small Texas Panhandle town with two parents in the medical field, she knew she wanted to follow their lead—but not with people. Like most students interested in becoming a veterinarian, Young started working at a local veterinary clinic in high school in her hometown of Levelland.

A dog came into the clinic in need of surgery. He was a perfect candidate and the routine procedure went off without a hitch. Post-surgery, Young, a kennel technician at the time, was cleaning up when she noticed the dog wasn’t moving. She called the vet over who immediately stepped in, but they could not save the dog.

“There’s nothing we could have done,” said Young. “The hardest part of that scenario was sitting with the veterinarian and hearing her tell the owner how sorry she was. It was frustrating to me because being closely connected to the human medical field through my parents, I know that an outcome like that was very unlikely.”

Young realized that in a hospital setting complications like that would have been caught sooner because of the abundance of monitors and equipment.

She began to channel her frustration about the dog’s death into finding equivalent monitoring equipment for veterinarians. When she couldn’t find a solution, she decided to come up with one herself.

From student to CEO

Her initial design was a small clip that went between an animal’s toes to measure heart rate and oxygen saturation. Over time, Young gained experience and a business partner in Armstrong, who now is a practicing veterinarian, and their idea took off.

With Armstrong’s help and experience, the pair was able to develop SKYPaws into the tool it is today: a smaller, much more advanced, patent-pending device that better serves pets and veterinarians.

“Our SKYPaws device can be taped to an animal’s chest pre- and post-surgery and will measure their ECG, heart rate and temperature,” said Young. “We are currently in the process of adding oxygen saturation.”

The wireless monitor collects the vital information and live streams it to a web-enabled device. This frees up veterinarians and technicians from sitting kennel side to monitor animals while also keeping them fully in the loop with the animal’s recovery. If any of the vitals go outside of a threshold previously set by the veterinarian, an alarm will go off letting them know the animal needs attention.

But the development of SKYPaws and the subsequent improvements wasn’t cheap. Through state and national pitch competitions the duo has won more than $67,000 that they’ve been able to put back into SKYPaws. Most notably, Young and Armstrong represented Texas A&M at the 2020 SEC Student Pitch Competition, the 2019 Aggie PITCH Competition, and finished first at the 2019 Raymond Ideas Challenge at Texas A&M.

Educational impact on career path

Without opportunities like those competitions, afforded to her by Texas A&M and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Young said she wouldn’t have discovered her passion for entrepreneurship in her field.

“As I’ve progressed through the animal science major, I’ve seen how the different classes we’re required to take help people find their passions, myself included.”

Helping students find where they fit in the animal science industry is something that Cliff Lamb, Ph.D., Department of Animal Science head said was a major consideration for the department during their recent curriculum redesign.

“Our modernized curriculum emphasizes and requires participation in hands-on internships and high impact learning opportunities such as study abroad and judging team participation,” Lamb said. “Students also have to take two advanced discipline specific courses as well as a capstone course to tie everything together.”

It’s these new courses that are helping Young and numerous other undergraduate students connect with the industry at large and preparing them to be valuable contributors and problem solvers.

“By introducing students to industry professionals and encouraging students to engage with professionals to propose solutions, we have noted how they have effectively used what they have learned throughout their studies to have an enhanced interest and impact on solving real-world issues,” Lamb said.

In addition to taking courses that helped her develop as a young scientist and entrepreneur, Young says she felt nothing but support from her professors. She said it’s clear that the faculty want to see you succeed in and out of the classroom.

The sky is the limit

Young recently won the grand prize at the Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs, the eighth largest business pitch competition in the U.S. With that, she received a $25,000 cash prize and a full ride scholarship to attend Draper University in San Mateo, CA.

For the moment, Young plans to pursue her business full time as CEO of SKYPaws and will eventually return to school to obtain a master’s degree in business administration.

And then? Well, the sky is the limit. 🎠