An innovative Australian start-up is promising to revolutionise the global veterinary industry with a new product that wirelessly monitors the vital signs of animals. By Shane Conroy
They say success doesn’t happen overnight. That’s certainly true for Jeremy Bocknek and Gabrielle Browne, the couple behind innovative start-up Alpha Vet Tech. Their debut product, Wireless Zoo—a first-of-its-kind device that will allow vets to wirelessly monitor the vital signs of animals—is in the final stages of clinical testing before its commercial launch later this year.
Its launch will mark the culmination of a decade-long journey that began in Canada and has spanned multiple countries as Bocknek and Browne moved mountains to turn their vision into a reality.
Now with working prototypes currently undergoing final testing at sites around the world—from Toronto Zoo to RSPCA Queensland and private practices around Switzerland and the US—Wireless Zoo is poised to revolutionise animal care.
A revolutionary approach
Currently, cumbersome wired monitors limit vets to monitoring the vital signs of their patients during surgery only and in immediate post-op recovery.
“Current wired devices restrict the animal’s movement so you’re never going to use it when it’s conscious,” says Canadian-born Bocknek.
But Wireless Zoo will change that with a wireless design that allows vets to monitor the vital signs of their patients while they’re awake. That means vets will be able to provide 24/7 monitoring to better track recovery.
“For example, on-call vets must often go into their practice at night to check on animals. With Wireless Zoo they can simply log into our software from a tablet at home to check on their patients in real time,” says Bocknek.
Wireless Zoo will also improve vets’ diagnostic capability. For example, the technology can be applied to animals as soon as they arrive at a practice so vital signs can be tracked throughout their appointment.
“And we can take that one step further,” explains Bocknek. “Say you take your dog to the vet, but he’s stressed so it’s difficult for the vet to tell what is wrong. With Wireless Zoo, the vet can put our equipment on him, tell the owner to take him home and monitor him over 24 hours. Then they can come back in and review the data.”
The power of data
But that’s not the end of the story. With real-time data recorded and stored in the cloud, vets will also be able to access a global database through the Wireless Zoo software.
“We’re providing a healthcare platform similar to one you’d see in a human hospital,” says Browne. “Vets will have all the animal’s data at their fingertips. For example, they’ll know exactly how the animal responded to a certain anaesthetic and what they may need to tweak for future treatments.”
The global database also offers vets a rich source of information they can draw on for a range of purposes.
“We’re providing a healthcare platform similar to one you’d see in a human hospital. Vets will have all the animal’s data at their fingertips.”—Gabrielle Browne, co-founder, Alpha Vet Tech
For example, if a vet is treating a 12-year-old female labrador, they can search the database to see how other 12-year-old female labradors have responded under similar treatments and medications. “It really enhances the level of care vets can provide,” says Browne. “The answers are there in the data.”
An idea is born
It has been a long journey for Bocknek and Browne. Bocknek came up with the idea for Wireless Zoo around a decade ago when he was working for a Canadian company that sold sophisticated neurodiagnostic devices to human hospitals. “My brother in Canada is a vet and he asked me if the equipment monitored vital signs,” he says. “I laughed and told him, ‘It’s like you’re asking me if you can drive the car we make to the shop to get milk. The answer is of course, it’s simple.’” Jokes aside, Bocknek immediately saw the potential in applying his company’s technology to the veterinary industry, so he wrote a business plan for the CEO.
“He thought it was a good idea but felt the market was too small. I guess a $60 to $70 billion dollar market is small compared to human healthcare, but it’s considered a ‘blue ocean’ because there’s virtually no competition in that space.”
Bocknek parked his idea until a few years later. He had moved to Australia to study for an MBA and Masters of IT, and during one of his business courses a lecturer asked if anyone had developed a business plan.
“I put my hand up and my group thought the idea had potential, so we developed it further. We ended up being invited to present the idea at a competition in Thailand and came third out of 66 global entrants.”
Reassured his idea had legs, Bocknek was keen to take the next step and see if he could develop a working prototype. But Australian companies were quoting between $200,000 and $250,000 to make it happen.
“I simply didn’t have the cash,” he says. “But a friend’s brother owned a development company in India, and they quoted me $14,000 to build a commercial-ready product. I knew that was impossible, but all I needed was proof of concept to secure funding, so I went with it.”
Browne was onboard at this stage as a project manager, and her experience working with Indian manufacturers in the fashion industry would be vital during a tumultuous 12-month period that would involve multiple missteps and a flight to India in a last-ditch attempt to save the project.
Finish line in sight
While Bocknek and Browne were far from happy with the experience, after another 12 months working with an engineer in Canada, they finally had proof of concept with a prototype that could wirelessly transmit vital signs to their software over a range of 280 metres.
“But the prototype was too rough to take to vets,” says Bocknek. “It’s like you have the plans for a house you’re going to build, but most people can’t visualise the house. And I didn’t want to show vets this box and say ,‘Well, it’s going to be three times smaller’.”
So they entered an accelerator program in Australia, and got in contact with a design firm that refined the prototype into a commercial-ready product. Since then, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
Wireless Zoo is currently in clinical testing with RSPCA Queensland, and private practices in Brisbane, Adelaide and the Gold Coast—as well as a range of other sites across the globe.
“It’s been a long and difficult journey but we’re in the final stages now,” says Bocknek. “We can see it will be worth it in the end.”
Register your interest in Wireless Zoo at alphavts.com/development/contact-us