man bringing dog to vet
Gallant founder Aaron Hirschhorn has based the premise of his business on the increased consumer focus on wellness, millennial lifestyle trends and advances in health technology. — Gallant

Pets are considered a bona fide member of the family in many households. And with consumers increasingly focused on wellness and preventative care, why not invest in the future health of family pets as well?

So thought entrepreneur Aaron Hirschhorn, founder of Gallant, whose experience healing his own chronic back pain with stem cell therapy inspired him to consider similar treatment for his arthritic dog, Rocky. Working with a team of scientists, Hirschhorn’s goal with Gallant is to make regenerative medicine for pets as accessible and non-invasive as possible.

“Today’s method of animal stem cell therapy costs $3,000 to $4,000,” Hirschhorn told CO—, explaining his imperative for creating the company. “It’s an unnecessary surgery on a dog that’s already sick. We’re doing this at a tenth of the cost of existing therapies today.” Also in Gallant’s favor: the pet sector benefits from less regulation than there is for stem cell therapy and research and treatment for humans.

Experienced in the pet startup space, Hirschhorn founded digital pet-sitting community DogVacay over a decade ago. Now, he applies that experience to a booming pet care industry that is influenced by an increased consumer focus on wellness, millennial lifestyle trends and advances in health technology.

One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that Americans are fostering more animals than ever during this time, “bringing furry friends across the country into loving homes,” Hirschhorn said. “At Gallant, we've been seeing this across the board, and we're excited that more people are experiencing the joy of having a pet.”

People view it as a natural therapy. It’s not only a disease treatment but also disease prevention to help our pets live happier and healthier.

Aaron Hirschhorn, founder, Gallant

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What it means to bank your dog’s genetic material

According to Hischhorn, stem cell therapy is similar across different species, and Gallant’s methodology could work with a variety of animals, including cats and even rabbits. However, as of now it’s only marketed for use with dogs.

Here’s how Gallant works: dog owners sign up online, requesting a special kit delivered directly to their veterinarian of choice. During a routine spay or neuter, stem-cell-rich reproductive tissue that would otherwise be discarded is instead put in the temperature-controlled kit and couriered back to Gallant’s labs.

The customer pays a monthly or one-time lump sum fee for the company to cryopreserve the cells indefinitely, that is, keeping them on ice in a trust until the customer’s pet needs them.

At this point, the therapy has proven effective in clinical trials at treating ailments including osteoarthritis, atopic dermatitis, and torn ligaments in dogs, cats and certain other small domestic animals.

Gallant can work with any vet, but Hirschhorn’s plan to successfully scale the business involves formal relationships with a network of doctors. Because the efficacy of the service depends on collecting the tissue during spay or neuter, most pet owners have a limited window in which to elect Gallant; vet partners can help do the important work of raising awareness and educating customers on the stem cell option.

Scaling also depends on convincing a large number of consumers to pursue a treatment they might not totally understand. Thus far, Gallant has invested its $11 million in funding, raised by a collection of venture capital partners, in research and development, as well as clinical studies that can serve as a testament to the success of the treatment. An appearance on TV’s Shark Tank has given the brand a boost in exposure.

“We’ve been really pleasantly surprised by how receptive people have been to this type of science,” Hirschhorn said. “People view it as a natural therapy. It’s not only a disease treatment but also disease prevention to help our pets live happier and healthier.”

Millennials and their pets

Consumer spending on pets is higher than ever, reflecting changing values around human-pet relationships as well as shifting generational norms, which is creating opportunities for companies like Hirschhorn’s.

“The pet industry has shown explosive growth over the past decade,” Aimee Gailbreath, executive director of the Michelson Found Animals Foundation, and partner at pet-centric startup accelerator Leap Venture Studio, told CO—. Data from e-commerce insights company Edge by Ascentialconfirms that pet care is pacing to be a $281 billon industry by 2023.

 gallant pet vet kit
Gallant's therapy has proven effective at treating ailments like osteoarthritis, atopic dermatitis and torn ligaments in dogs, cats and certain other small domestic animals. — Gallant

A multitude of factors go into the rising importance of domestic animals to the contemporary consumer. Marrying later in life, many younger consumers are opting for pets before – or instead of – starting a family. Millennials account for 35% of pet ownership, according to a 2017 study by the American Pet Products Association, now representing the largest generational cohort.

“Pets have become an integral part of the family, especially as millennials delay having children,” Gailbreath said. “With this shift has come an increase in demand for modern and smart solutions to help them take better care of their pets.”

That also means consumers are increasingly comfortable paying a premium for their animals. “As household income levels have improved, pet owners are more willing to spend more on higher-margin products,” said IBISWorld industry analyst Thi Le. “Specifically, pet owners have placed a higher emphasis on their pet’s health.”

Pet care gets humanized

Hirschhorn’s journey from his own stem cell therapy to developing an accessible option for dogs mirrors larger trends within the pet care space.

There is an undeniable “humanizing” of everything from food to healthcare, with an abundance of premium options for consumers to choose. Meanwhile, technological progress gives consumers more tools to improve the health of both themselves and their pets, with products like fitness trackers and apps, supplements and telemedicine options.

“Compared to the past decade, the pet sector has now included more variety of products and services, which go beyond just basic pet food and vet services,” Le says. “Most prominently, pet tech has been at the forefront of innovations.”

Le predicts that a proclivity to splurge on pet care will inform the growth of new and more niche sectors of the category. Hirschhorn points to his own company as well as the rise of pet insurance as a signpost of the category’s evolution, predicting it will grow exponentially in coming years despite minimal penetration today.

For some consumers, a service like Gallant may seem, at first blush, like an unnecessary expense. However, Hirschhorn believes the category is evolving in such a way that pet owners will continue to invest in the health of their animals – at any cost.

“When I first started meeting with venture firms to fund DogVacay in 2012, I was constantly told ‘no’ because the market was too small,” Hirschhorn says. “Brands and VCs are now realizing how much Americans are paying for their pets.” This investment in new pet-related businesses is driving even more innovation, and consumers – thus far – are buying in.

“Successful pet startups do something better, different or new: They either innovate an existing product in new and exciting ways or solve a problem,” Gailbreath added. “The future of pet health tech is very bright.”

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Published June 16, 2020