Teen starts business to help pets, owners connect

Brooke Martin, a 13-year-old Spokane high school freshman, will have an unusual report on “how I spent my summer vacation.”

Martin spent a good part of the past six months helping launch iCPooch, a Spokane Web startup that will give dog owners an interactive way to connect with their pets.

She’s enlisted the help of dozens of professionals, family members and friends, sharpening the business plan and lining up financing.

Brooke and her father, Chris Martin, hope to start manufacturing products by the end of the year.

With an estimated retail price of $169, iCPooch is an 18-inch Wi-Fi kiosk that could be called Skype for Fido.

With a smartphone or tablet and an iCPooch app, a dog owner can connect to the home device and start talking. The owner’s image and voice come from a tablet attached to the iCPooch device, stationed on the floor.

Any noises or sounds made by the dog will be heard by the owner, thanks to the Web connection used by the device.

The owner can also activate the device to dispense a treat, with a push of a button on the iCPooch mobile app.

The idea came to Martin while she was an eighth-grader at Odyssey Middle School, taking a class on being an entrepreneur. That led her to reflect on what might be done to help her pet golden retriever, Kayla, who whined when left alone at home.

Last fall she took the general idea to a “startup weekend” held at Gonzaga University. After a busy three days of business brainstorming, she came away with the basic plan for launching a business to bring iCPooch to fruition.

This week the Martins expect to launch a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $70,000. The company plans to make the pooch communication device at a Spokane-area manufacturing company.

Chris Martin, executive director of a private foundation that connects educators and gifted students, said his daughter has always been a fast learner and super-motivated. But she’s more than just a straight-A student, he said; she rides horses, plays piano and violin, takes part in Camp Fire and Girl Scout activities, and is on the student council.

Brooke’s idea has brought in $1,000 by being one of 10 finalists in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. This fall she will make a presentation in St. Paul, Minn., and could come home with $25,000 if she wins the top prize.

“I’ve learned that you have to chase your dreams and pursue your ideas,” she said. “A year ago, I would have never thought that I would be capable of starting a business, or even having an idea for a business.”

Dog owners have been using a variety of Web devices to keep track of their pets remotely. The early versions were static webcams.

The new generation of devices and apps tries to stimulate or entertain pets stranded at home or in kennels while their owners are away.

The Martins hired James Pelland to become the company’s CEO after they decided iCPooch had commercial potential. Pelland is a Spokane resident and managing director of laptop and tablet sales for hardware maker Asus.

“The product is on the cutting edge of what the Internet can deliver, similar to home security and Web sprinkler systems, but has a much more emotional component,” Pelland said in an email.

“And Brooke’s poise and thoughtfulness and Chris’ natural ability to move projects forward are great assets that made my decision much easier,” he said.

Several local investors have become shareholders in the company, including Tom Simpson, the dean of Spokane-area venture capital matchmaking. Simpson arranged an iCPooch investment through Kick-Start II, a fund he manages. He declined to give the amount of the investment. He is also a member of iCPooch’s board of directors.

Last fall Simpson saw Brooke make her startup weekend pitch at GU and realized she had a knack for explaining ideas and generating enthusiasm. He invested because he’s convinced “dog lovers have an incredible appetite for new and different products for their pets … and because Brooke Martin’s story is heartwarming and she serves as a terrific spokesperson.”

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