Veterinary Entrepreneurs, Make Your Pitch!
Why entrepreneurs are flocking to veterinary medicine to try and solve industry challenges.
Recording day is Shawn Wilkie’s favorite time of the week. For 20 minutes, Wilkie and co-host Dr. Ivan Zakharenkov get to interview entrepreneurs who are solving a wide array of problems veterinarians are facing on a day-to-day basis. One week the Veterinary Innovation Podcast duo talked to Chelsea Rhoads of Ivee about data consolidation platforms. Another week, they recorded a conversation with Alan Robinson of VetDynamics about how having high levels
of empathy can lead to burnout.
“I love it because these are top-shelf humans that we get to have conversations with,” Wilkie said. A lot of these innovators are people that have been in the profession – many of them veterinarians – and are taking the skills and knowledge they gained and applying it to veterinary medicine in different ways. “It’s really cool to talk to a veterinarian, or a veterinary technician that was in practice, saw a pain point and said, ‘You know what? I think I can fix that.’”
For Wilkie and Zakharenkov, the people they interview are kindred spirits. Zakharenkov is the founder of Veterinary Integration Solutions, and before that was the CEO of Smart Flow, a workflow optimization system that he would eventually sell to IDEXX. Wilkie is the founder of Talkatoo, a desktop dictation solution that augments workflow by using speech-to-text capability with specialized vocabularies. Talkatoo is cloud-based software designed to turn time consuming chart work into a single-click experience for its users and is powered by artificial intelligence. The more a veterinarian uses the software, the better it’ll learn his or her speech patterns and lingo.
Dictation is not for everybody, and it’s not a silver bullet, but Wilkie said about 8 in 10 veterinarians struggle to keep on top of records. And that’s not counting other staff, including technicians and front office workers. The way Talkatoo builds and licenses its tool is cost-effective for both small, independent practices and corporate groups and their team, he said. “So, it’s not just the veterinarians, it’s the veteran technicians, receptionist – literally everybody in the veterinary practice can benefit from using our tool, whether they’re doing client communication, or medical records or any number of things that requires them to bang on a keyboard.”
Veterinary professionals didn’t enter the field to become data entry clerks. And now too much of their time is being spent in front of a computer. Veterinarians would rather be with clients in the exam room, or if they’re large animal veterinarians, out on the road calling on owners.
“We’re able to help people, which is our company’s mission, and give back to veterinary professionals the most valuable resource they have, which is time.”
Talkatoo wants to be the leader in dictation software for the veterinary industry, with a goal of 50,000 users by 2025. The startup garnered some spotlight at this year’s VMX conference by winning the Pet Pitch Competition. “Anything that gives you exposure to your target audience in any business is important,” said Wilkie. “So being part of the Pet Pitch Competition at VMX and winning it gave us a lot of exposure. Here’s the largest veterinary conference in the world saying to veterinarians that this is a cool product you can check out.”
Open to technology
Entrepreneurs are drawn to the industry for many reasons. The veterinary industry is one of the best verticals Wilkie said he’s ever worked in. “The people are great to work with, and opportunities abound,” he said. For instance, large corporate groups are coming to Talkatoo because they are struggling to hire people and keep people. Their team members are overworked, “and we have a solution that saves them half the time they spend on medical records,” he said, “which every person in veterinary medicine, for the most part, hates doing.”
The pandemic has only accelerated the rate of change and adoption of new technologies in the veterinary space. At the beginning of COVID, Wilkie said computer skills among veterinarians and staff were pretty low. “I’m exaggerating, but it was like you could barely find someone who knew how to turn a computer on.” The pandemic has forced veterinary clinics to become tech-savvy. To illustrate the point, Wilkie hosted a recent Zoom call with 25 veterinarians, all working for the same organization, all with their video on – and all engaged in a conversation. “If that was two years ago, that wouldn’t have happened. We’ve had 10 years of digital transformation in veterinary medicine in a short amount of time because of COVID.”
People in the industry, from businesses to clinicians, are open to technology. They’re seeing it as a potential solution to burnout and to solve the issues plaguing veterinary medicine. “I truly believe that the veterinary profession can innovate its way out of the problems it faces,” Wilkie said. “Veterinarians can be happier and less stressed out and less burnt out. Technology is not a silver bullet, but it can get veterinarians out of some problems they’re in right now.”
For instance, some veterinarians Wilkie has talked to recently said that since they’ve gone to curbside, they may not return to the waiting room, because it’s a much less stressful setup, and they’re able to provide better care. Instead, the waiting room area may be converted to more exam rooms or an operating room. “There’s some innovation that’s going to come out of the last 18 months that’s going to change the profession.”
Investors, too, are taking note of the opportunities available in the veterinary market. And the companies to back. For instance, in late August, Talkatoo announced it had closed a new, oversubscribed round of funding, led by Klick Ventures.
Klick is joined in the investment by Blu Ventures, Concrete Ventures, Manifold Group, Globalive Capital, as well as notable angel investor Dr. Ivan Zak, CEO at Galaxy Vets. The capital from the U.S. and Canadian investors will be used to further accelerate Talkatoo’s double-digit growth and leadership in the animal health sector.
“Talkatoo is quickly becoming known among veterinary professionals as the dictation tool of choice as it lets them allocate more time to patient care,” said Wilkie. “Not only does our software instantly transcribe notes on all applications, but it leverages both artificial intelligence and our proprietary, built-in medical dictionary to help ensure that complicated medical terms are identified and accurately transcribed in clinical reports, records, and other important communications.”
“We love Talkatoo’s innovative approach to solving an important unmet need in the animal health space,” said Leerom Segal, Co-Founder, Chairman, and CEO of the Klick Group. “We are very excited about Talkatoo’s future and the competitive advantage they offer as professional organizations increasingly adopt voice technology for added convenience and productivity at work.”
One of only 12 companies selected to the exclusive Google for Startups Accelerator program’s Voice AI cohort, Talkatoo was originally paired up with Klick for mentorship.
Head of Google’s U.S. Startup Developer Ecosystem Jason Scott said Klick’s investment in Talkatoo is a rare instance of a program mentor becoming an investor, which speaks volumes about both Klick’s commitment to health innovation and the strength of Talkatoo’s product offering.
“We were thrilled to welcome Talkatoo into our inaugural Google for Startups Accelerator: Voice AI program,” said Scott. “Talkatoo’s ability to provide veterinary professionals with a simple, elegant, and empowering voice-enabled solution that’s consistent and reliable across devices will have an incredible impact on the industry. At Google, we’re proud to be part of their journey.”
Google Research Scientist Bill Byrne, a speech and dialogue interface pioneer, said, “We expect continued growth in the Voice AI market as it cascades into industry verticals with breakthrough tools that provide value to business professionals and enhance the workplace. Talkatoo’s vision of providing veterinary professionals with an innovative and enjoyable voice recognition experience across various devices will undoubtedly drive adoption in this space.”
Solving difficult problems
Technology developments from other industries will also cross over, including more products with artificial intelligence and more platforms that compile big data, Wilkie said. “There’s a world around us that continues to move, regardless of what’s happening in veterinary medicine.”
Wilkie said he’s seeing more and more businesses sniffing around veterinary medicine, particularly from human health. These are thought leaders that have come upon red tape, whether it be regulations, bureaucracies, or cost. They build frameworks around their idea, watch it grow in veterinary medicine, and then in some cases take it back to human health.
“Many people have discovered that veterinary medicine is an interesting playground to solve some really difficult problems,” Wilkie said.
VMX Pet Pitch Competition
The VMX Pet Pitch Competition and Startup Circle is designed to give new companies the opportunity to introduce their products, services, and solutions to thousands of veterinary professionals and practice decision-makers. The winner of this year’s VMX Pet Pitch Competition was Talkatoo, a desktop dictation solution that augments a veterinary practice’s current workflow by using speech-to-text capability with specialized vocabularies. With a Mac or Windows computer, veterinarians can spend less time writing notes and more time with their patients.
The other finalists were chosen from the Expo Hall Startup Circle:
- Mella builds remote wellness technology solutions for veterinarians and pet owners to better understand and track pet health. Mella provides proactive pet health monitoring that is non-invasive and integrated at multiple levels to facilitate the seamless sharing of patient data between veterinarians, pet owners, patient records, and wellness platforms in real-time.
- QSM Diagnostics develops point-of-care diagnostics for rapid identification and monitoring of bacterial infections. Their devices will provide veterinarians with a diagnosis result allowing them to prescribe the proper course of treatment before clients leave the clinic.
- VetGuardian is the only zero-touch telemonitor for veterinarians that includes a live video feed and continuous readings of three major vital signs – temperature, pulse, respiration – up to five feet away, without physical contact or wires. Its advanced warning system tells veterinarians when animals are in danger.
- Vetranomix is an innovative veterinary diagnostic laboratory that uses molecular technology to rapidly target infectious diseases in animals. It uses PCR technology to identify pathogens causing illness.
Photo 1 credit: istockphoto.com/nortonrsx
Photo 2 credit: istockphoto.com/Marco VDM