Mars targets pet tech with $100 mln corporate fund

Pet-focused entrepreneurs are wagging their tails over Mars Petcare’s formation of a $100 million venture fund and an accelerator to focus on pet-care startups.

The Brussels unit of the closely held McLean, Virginia, global foods giant plans to put that cash into early- and late-stage deals over 10 years.

Companion Fund, managed by Digitalis Ventures, will invest in entrepreneurs who are addressing the needs of pets, pet owners and veterinarians via digital health, diagnostics, nutrition and services.

Digitalis’s partners have “extensive experience investing in digital health, nutrition and consumer propositions,” Leonid Sudakov, president of connected solutions at Mars Petcare, tells VCJ.

“Many of the investment theses that have been proven out on the human side are now porting across to managing the lives of companion animals.”

Sudakov added that Companion Fund will invest worldwide but will focus on deals in North America and Europe. Digitalis is based in New York but has a presence in Los Angeles, San Francisco and London.

In addition, Mars Petcare has teamed with Michelson Found Animals and R/GA to launch Leap Venture Studio, an accelerator based in Portland, Oregon, which is the office of the digital design agency R/GA.

Michelson is a nonprofit providing microchipping, spay-and-neuter and other services and resources.

Mars says the accelerator will foster pet-care startups from seed to Series A by providing mentorship from industry executives, science, veterinary health and pet advocacy.

Applications for Leap opened March 7 and admissions into the accelerator will roll throughout the year. The first program module will commence at the end of July. Sudakov says he expects five to eight companies per class.

The launch of the venture fund and accelerator comes as the pet-food sector has heated up. In 2016, Mars acquired VC-backed Whistle, maker of a GPS location monitor and fitness tracking device for dogs, for a reported $117 million.

Earlier this year, dog-walking app Wag! raised $300 million in funding, backed by SoftBank‘s Vision Fund.

Pet care is a $100 billion industry, according to market forecaster Euromonitor International. Between 2012 and 2016, as much as $486 million was invested in the global pet-tech sector across 172 deals, according to CB insights.

“There is a lot of opportunity here and it’s poised for further growth,” Sudakov says.

The Leap accelerator and Companion Fund will be showcased at Mars Petcare’s Leap Lounge during the South by Southwest conference on March 11 in Austin.

Photo courtesy Denis Zbukarev/iStock/Getty Images