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Is the tech sector going to the dogs? Add to ...

From sweaters to salons, there’s no shortage of zeal when it comes to spoiling pets.
 
The proof is in pet products sales, which resumed a double-digit pace of growth last year after trailing off in 2010, according to a Statscan industry survey. Over the past 10 years, sales of food, supplies and accessories have doubled to more than $3.5 billion in 2014.

Tech entrepreneurs have sniffed out this market growth and they’re grooming a new generation of devices and apps that can help owners find lost pets, monitor their vital signs and even find a sitter when they’re on vacation.

If it’s any indication that love for pets has no limits, there’s even a dating-style app, shamelessly called Tindog, that’s destined to make dogs drool. It works nearly identically to its human counterpart Tinder, swipes and all.

“This is a quiet revolution of how people want to treat their pets,” says SeeHorse founder and chief executive Peter Mankowski.

That revolution, it would seem, is still a work in progress. Mr. Mankowski says entrepreneurial attempts to dangle tech goodies in front pet owners have resulted in a flood of indistinguishable wearables, many of which do little more than count steps.

It’s for that reason he’s caged up his first startup, CLEO Collar, to focus on SeeHorse, a wearable itself but with a narrower focus on equines.

“I don’t want to play in a crowded market,” he explained. “We need more elaborate technology.”

SeeHorse primarily monitors a horse’s health, but equestrians are using it to train animals ahead of competitions, too. Mr. Mankowski, who’s just begun to sell a pilot version of his product, says early adopters have also reported using it to keep tabs on horses while they’re being transported in a trailer, and breeders say it helps to detect early signs of labour.

The features are evolving, just like the niche itself. But so far pet tech hasn’t really resonated with Canadian investors. Mr. Mankowski needed to turn to people who have a passion for animal science so he could raise $500,000 for SeeHorse.

In the U.S., it’s not a space that can brag about six-figure rounds either, although it would be unfair to judge its worth as a startup category by investment dollars alone: most of these businesses don’t involve hardware, so there’s less requirement for high levels of capital.

A rare investor from Canada, OMERS Ventures, allocated funds in the space when it led a $25-million Series B+ round last November to fund Santa Monica, Calif.-based DogVacay, the dog-sitting marketplace that’s raised more than any other North American pet tech startup.

In particular, OMERS Ventures’ managing director Kent Thexton said DogVacay’s customer satisfaction scores impressed him. Even though DogVacay isn’t the only platform that allows pet owners to connect with care providers, he believes one will eventually conquer the rest.

“In terms of penetration and awareness, it’s a new industry. So when you’re creating new industries, especially in this product category, trust is such an important factor. It’s not something you’re going to casually try,” Mr. Thexton said.

Another startup aiming for a similar market is DogSync, which has an app that lets pet owners coordinate the daily tasks of caring for their pets with family and roommates. Co-founder and CEO Ben Syne is in the midst of a soft launch in Canada. He’s also in talks to partner with Rover, an American startup similar to DogVacay that has upwards of 25,000 users.

The future in this space, as Syne sees it, is analytics. “We amass all this data about dog owners and no one has really attempted to do that yet. We can really curate that and provide the right information at the right time. It’s happened in so many other markets but it’s yet to happen in the pet owner market.”

As for the wearable side of things, Syne thinks there are still possibilities. “I don’t think it’s over-saturated. I think it’s hasn’t really found its killer feature yet.”

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