Three school friends from Boyle County, all in their early 20s, are on their way to Amsterdam to learn how to expand and manage their smart technology pet-tag business.
TagaPet started because of Michael Ward's dog Lily, a Labrador-border collie mix. When Ward was working in a restaurant and living in a house with other young men, he worried that Lily would get out of the house and be lost.
"I thought, seven guys in a house, she's going to go missing," Ward said. "What would I do?"
His answer became his company: TagaPet.
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Family and friends provided money for a prototype, and the three men — Ward is the chief executive officer, Ben Wilson the tech guru, and Mac Glidewell the chief operating officer — went into business providing "smart" tags that go on pet collars. They are now trying to raise additional money on the site Indiegogo.com, where a tag can be bought for a $25 donation.
Those who buy tags will also be beta testers for the product.
"They will have an impact on how it feels and functions," Ward said.
Lily the dog now has a coded tag. When scanned on a smartphone using NFC or QR codes, it brings up a picture of Lily and her owner's phone number. It also sends word of Lily's disappearance to shelters, vet clinics and via social media to friends and family.
The owner will be able to see the GPS location where the tag was scanned.
The TagaPet managers say they think their product has the potential to replace microchips embedded in pets. The microchips are read with specialized scanners.
"We really wanted to have a social aspect to it, so we send out lost pet alerts," Ward said. Hence the dog may be returned to her owner in a simple two-person interaction without a visit to a veterinarian's office or dog shelter.
TagaPet is not the only company touting external, scannable tags for pets — FurCode uses similar technology — but Ward said he believes his company will nonetheless succeed: The three partners were the only American team to win a spot in the final 10 for a Startupbootcamp.com project. They leave Saturday for Amsterdam, where they will receive mentoring and tips for their new business.
TagaPet competed with more than 250 other firms to make the top 10, in a three-month process that "will help us scale up, give us mentorship."
Startupbootcamp said on its Web site that all the alumni of its 2012 program received funding for their companies.
The TagaPet group also won the Elevator Pitch Competition in Kentucky's 2012 Idea State U, a statewide business concept and business plan competition.
TagaPet had been working out of the Awesome Inc. business incubator on Main Street in Lexington before traveling to Amsterdam for Startupbootcamp.
"Hopefully this program sets us up so next year we can make a profit," Ward said.