Now that you have that COVID dog, Embark Veterinary wants to help him or her be in your life for a long time by offering DNA testing with the goal of curbing preventable diseases and increasing the lifespan of dogs by three years within the next decade.
The Boston-based dog genetics company raised $75 million in Series B funding in what the company is calling “the biggest Series B for a pet startup to date.” SoftBank Vision Fund 2 was the lead investor and was joined by existing investors F-Prime Capital, SV Angel, Slow Ventures, Freestyle Capital and Third Kind Venture Capital.
The new round boosts Embark’s total funding to $94.3 million since the company was founded in 2015, according to Crunchbase data. It also gives it a post-money valuation of $700 million, Embark founder and CEO Ryan Boyko told TechCrunch.
Boyko has been a dog lover all his life, and also interested in biology and evolution. Dogs, in particular, are fascinating to him because of their variety: they can be bred to be two pounds or 200 pounds, and come in all shapes and sizes. His interest led him to study dogs in order to understand their evolution.
“I began to think about health problems, and honestly, dogs are a better system for using genetics to better their health than humans,” Boyko said. “You can breed them, so genetics has as much power to cause health problems as it can improve quality and life.”
Embark’s dog DNA test retails for $199 and enables dog owners, breeders and veterinarians to personalize care plans based on a dog’s unique genetic profile. It can test for over 350 breeds and 200 genetic health risks, as well as physical traits. Similar to a 23andMe test, test users can learn characteristics about breed, health and ancestry.
For example, the test could show that a healthy dog may have a gene that predisposes them to slipped discs. If the dog has that, then weight management would be an important factor in their care regime, as would not allowing them to jump off the couch. Another common genetic risk is HUU, or Hyperuricosuria, which is elevated levels of uric acid in urine that could lead to bladder stones due to the way dogs process minerals. By changing the dog’s diet, it could reduce the risk for developing the stones, which are painful and expensive to treat, Boyko said.
The test’s technology revolves around proprietary genotyping technology that analyzes more than 200,000 genetic markers, currently two times more information than any other dog DNA test on the market, Boyko said. This gives Embark the world’s largest database of canine health and biological information, enabling the company to provide insights into certain conditions and make new discoveries about health risks, traits and breeds.
Embark aims to become the standard of care for dog owners and vets. It grew 235% between 2019 and 2020 and saw five times the sales over the past two years. To support that growth, the company intends to use the new funding to bring on key hires and expand its database. Boyko anticipates adding more than 100 employees between 2021 and 2022.
Boyko said the opportunity in the pet startup space is huge. Indeed, U.S. spending on pets reached nearly $100 billion in 2020, up from $95.7 billion in 2019, according to the American Pet Products Association.
At the same time, venture capital interest in U.S. pet-focused companies, from nutrition to travel to healthcare, grew 29.5% from 2019 and 2020, according to Crunchbase data. In addition to Embark’s funding, 2021 was good to other pet startups as well, including pet insurance company Wagmo, raising $12.5 million, connected pet collar company Fi received $30 million and Rover, which announced plans to go public via SPAC.
Lydia Jett, partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, told TechCrunch that this was her first pet-based investment, and what Embark is doing brings advances to a category right now where people care about their pets enough that they want to do something that will expand their value of life.
Jett said the management team being dedicated to DNA-based analytics is the future, and Embark is starting this big curve when it comes to pets and the convergence of real emotional ties to pets and the ability to improve their lives.
“This company is a driver of change to happen,” she added. “We are the largest consumer investor in the world, and Embark is very much aligned with what we are seeing across our portfolio that consumers are revisiting priorities and choices. That is a major trend, but still early in the cycle of personalization for their pets.”