Each week, staff writer Paul Wood interviews a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet iVenture Accelerator fellow NICK BAHR, an undergraduate at the University of Illinois whose new venture, Verge Pets, is developing an automatic reptile feeder.
Tell us about Verge Pets' new device.
Our Automatic Reptile Feeder allows pet owners the peace of mind that their reptiles will always be well taken care of. Something interesting about reptiles is that their feeding instinct is triggered by movement; therefore, oftentimes, their food has to be alive for them to eat it. There was no device on the market that held and dispensed live insects, so we created one.
How did you get the idea?
When I was in high school, I had nine lizards, geckos and skinks. When I needed to leave town, I could never find someone who knew how or was willing to come care for my reptiles. At one point, I eventually convinced my grandma to take care of them, and she accidently dumped live crickets all over my bedroom. I was still finding them weeks later! I knew then that there had to be a better solution.
How does Verge Pets 'create the optimal reptile experience through the Automatic Reptile Feeder'?
Your reptile deserves the best care at all times, even when you can't be there for them. Our product ensures that the reptile is always getting the right amount of food at the times that they need it. So this is giving pet owners peace of mind away from home. Your reptile deserves a good meal. The Automatic Reptile Feeder holds live crickets, keeps them healthy and dispenses them into a tank when your reptile needs it.
How do you time that?
We have developed a printed circuit board that has a built-in 24-hour timer. The board then drives a motor to dispense crickets twice a day, once a day, or every other day, depending on the reptile's feeding schedule.
And what keeps the crickets alive?
In the cricket compartments there is a smaller compartment that holds the cricket cube. This is an orange cube that contains all the food, water and vitamins the crickets need to stay alive and healthy.
Who else is on your team?
Zayyan Faizal joined the team last month. He is another UI engineer. He is focusing on the electronics side of product development and the marketing side of business development.
Do you see yourself in this kind of business area in the future?
I definitely see myself in product development. I like to find problems and bring physical solutions to life. Verge is a place where my problem solving intuition intersected with one of my strongest passions.
Have you talked with any venture capitalists?
We have spoken with VCs through the iVenture program but are not actively looking for investment. We are evaluating what funding route is best for us.
How about UI funding?
We received funding through the Cozad New Venture Competition and the iVenture Accelerator Program.
Is your product available right now?
Right now, we are finalizing the production version and are in talks with manufacturers. We plan on starting pre-orders in late July.
Do you have any patents?
We have not yet been issued a patent but are in the process of obtaining one.
TECH TIDBITS ... from NICK BAHR
On Facebook I follow: I am a part of a lot of reptile groups. I enjoy seeing other people's experiences, reptiles and tanks.
Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? Book. I just started "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." It was recommended and loaned to me by another startup founder in the iVenture program.
Do you have an entrepreneur hero? Mine is a personal one. It has to be my former Scoutmaster, Chris Neumann. He is someone who has been in my life since I was young and I have learned so much from him through the years; not only about being an entrepreneur and a problem solver, but also about being a good person and a productive member of society.