Helping doggos be doggos...what's not to love about that?! Mechanical engineering seniors Bruno Geoly (left) and Niki Duer (right) founded Puppy Pal Prosthetics (PPP) in July 2019 to help canines with disabilities live their lives to the fullest. After working on the initial idea as part of an engineering capstone course, the two plan to continue working on their startup after they graduate in December 2019. Here's what they've been up to:
Q: What does your startup do?
A: Puppy Pal Prosthetics aims to revolutionize the way people look and think about canine prosthetics. We are working towards creating a line of highly specialized canine prosthetic limbs that are not only extremely useful, but also cost effective. There are large differences in how prosthetic limbs are created for dogs and humans which lead to many inefficiencies in the way current prosthetic limbs are designed and built. Puppy Pal Prosthetics is solving these problems in order to give any dog a leg up on its disability!
Q: How did you come up with your business idea? What inspired you?
A: So I'm a mechanical engineering major, and for my capstone class, I joined the Engineering for Social Innovation section. For this section, we were supposed to find a problem and create a solution for it. When we considering different ideas, my co-founder Niki Duer was talking to his friend who was thinking about becoming a veterinarian. His friend brought up canine prosthesis and told Niki that he didn't really understand why prosthetic limbs for dogs are so bad. We decided that this could be a good idea for a project to work on. At that point, we reached out to the Boulder Humane Society to ask what the veterinarians and vet techs what they thought about dogs with prosthetics. Instead of helping us connect with people to interview, the Boulder Humane Society introduced us to a vet tech with a dog named Drake who got around using a prosthetic limb. Both Drake and his owner did not like using his prosthesis, so with both a a great cause and first client, Puppy Pal Prosthetics was formed.
Q: What is your role at your startup?
A: I am the CEO and a design engineer. The prior year, I was just the project manager, but now I design the prototypes as well as define what the strategy of PPP will be.
Q: What CU Boulder entrepreneurial resources did you take advantage of to help you build your business? How did they help you build/test/launch/scale?
A: The Engineering for Social Innovation capstone class is what started this whole venture. Without that class and the mentors I had access to as a result, Puppy Pal Prosthetics would not have even gotten off the ground. Furthermore, we also met with several mentors through the New Venture Challenge workshops.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge in running your startup? What about notable wins or successes?
A: To me, the biggest challenge has been understanding what the most important next steps are with a small business. With only a team of four people and little funding, we are not able to allocate all the time in the world to creating prototypes, developing our business plan, or networking for partnerships. Understanding which area needs the most attention has been a huge challenge for me because it requires you be thinking about many things at once, something that I'm not that great at. I hate to say it requires you to wear many different hats because that's really cliche, but it does.
In terms of huge success, any time we see improvement in the functionality of our prototypes, it's a huge success for us. On top of that, PPP won 3rd place at the EforAll pitch competition a month ago which was a huge morale boost to see people believe in our idea.
Q: What do you love about having your own company?
A: I enjoy the freedom it gives me. My co-founder and I are able to decide which direction to take the company, which materials we use in our design, and the best ways for us to effectively work. I've worked internships where I don't entirely enjoy the way the companies decide what to work on, and as an employee, that feels very un-motivating. Now, if my co-founder or I see something in our business that doesn't make sense, we have the ability to do a 180 and work on something else.
Q: What advice would you give to other students who are interested in starting their own businesses?
A: I would say just work on the project and work on it in the way you believe is right. Many people will give you advice on how to work on your venture and will just flat out tell you your idea isn't going to work, and while you should acknowledge what they say, don't let it steer you away from your original idea. Additionally, you should be talking to as many people about your idea as possible. Even if the people you talk to don't give good advice, they will always ask great questions about your business. These questions can give you invaluable insights to the information about your sector you don't know yet and are great precursors to questions asked by potential investors, clients, or partners.
Q: What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
A: I wish I knew how serious I would become about this project. A year ago, I had no idea I would continue Puppy Pal Prosthetics as a business. The difference in scope between a class project and a real business venture is huge, and the size of the project currently motivates to continue working. Furthermore, I really wish I had talked to more veterinarians, dog owners, and amputee dog owners initially. Learning how to conduct a useful interview is really hard and takes a lot of practice. A year ago, I was just doing interviews to say I was getting them done. I never really got great information out of the interviews until I sat down and thought about the questions and answers I wanted. Taking a class with Kyle Judah as my professor really helped me out with this, but at the end of the day, it was a matter of practice.