Brian and Debra Douglas combine skills in new start-up
By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Brian and Debra Douglas are Knoxville residents who have leveraged their respective skills to start a company called Pet Perils, LLC.
“It’s a confluence of what we do,” Brian, an Indiana native, told us in a recent teknovation.biz interview. “Debra was caring for animals that were aging or post-operative. My experience was at Young-Williams Animal Center.”
Debra, who launched her pet sitting business in 2001, is the duo’s inventor. Brian served as Clinical Services Director for five years at Young-Williams.
The confluence of expertise and interests came together when their golden retriever had surgery for cancer.
Today, their very young company has two issued patents and two trademarks for, as you might expect, two different products. Both are focused on pets, and both were envisioned by Debra.
“She did not know she was an inventor,” Brian says of his wife.
One of their products is a garment that replaces the cone and crate used with pets after surgery. The cone keeps the animal from trying to remove the stitches, while the crate reduces the pet’s movement to help improve the healing process.
“Our garment keeps the surgery site clean and dry and the animal still,” Brian says. “Other garments only address one of the two needs and also are not as comfortable for the pet.”
The second product – Cliff-Stop TechnologyTM – is a ramp with collapsible, lightweight, vision-blocking sides designed to enhance mobility in aging or injured pets.
Brian explained that virtually every species is hard-wired with a perception of the visual cliff, which is an often acute awareness of differences in elevation that prevents falling. Because of this effect, dogs are reluctant to use ramps to help them move more freely. In fact, he says that even if an owner can get a pet to use one ramp, introducing a second one can be just as challenging.
“Most dogs are averse to a new ramp,” Brian says, adding that research shows that 86 percent will refuse to use the new one.
Enter Cliff-Stop TechnologyTM. Results for their new ramp are just the opposite. “Eight-five of the 86 percent used it the first time,” Brian explained. “The ramp’s sides eliminate the fear of falling.”
“We stumbled onto it,” he laughs.
That said, the company owns all of the intellectual property and is exploring other intriguing prospective applications suggested by their IP advisors both within and outside the animal world.
“We’re at multiple forks in the road,” Brian admits. “We’ve gone further than our knowledge should take us.”
Along the way, the duo got advice from Randy Boyd, Founder of Radio Systems Corporation, and IP advice from Esther Bell of Global Intellectual Property Asset Management, PLLC, an individual Brian described in a Facebook post as “the best IP attorney – and friend – any inventor could ever ask for!”
More recently, they have been working with Lynn Youngs, Executive Director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Tennessee, to connect with faculty and students. In addition, Youngs is also a personal mentor to the couple as he is to many other area entrepreneurs.
As is the case with many start-ups like Pet Perils, Brian and Debra have self-funded the work up to now.
“We have put ourselves in debt above our expectations,” Brian says.
With a strong IP position and proven technology, they are poised to pursue one or both of the products.