Inspired by their love for animals, Full-Time MBA students Maya Shaposhnik Cadena and Ashley Brooks have launched Chicago-based Vetted, a preventive health-care company for pets.
For Cadena, who grew up in a family that included plenty of pugs, the vision for the business came into focus when she took her newest family member—her French bulldog, Shor—to his first veterinarian visit. She found the whole experience frustrating.
“It’s a three-hour ordeal. You have anxiety. The pet has anxiety. You don’t even get to see the vet,” she says. “You pay a ridiculous bill, you go home, and you don’t know what you need to do at home. That’s when I knew I wanted to start this company.”
Cadena had cofounded businesses in the past, including an international event planning company and a hotel and spa consulting company in Tel Aviv, Israel. Her husband, Alejandro, got Shor for Maya’s 30th birthday in September 2020, when she had just started her MBA at Booth. She met Brooks, a software development engineer and digital marketing strategist, at a meeting in the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Group. They quickly bonded over founder dreams and a fierce love of animals. Brooks had encountered similar frustrations in caring for her cat, a small, all-black beauty named Neko, now 10.
“I’d become a bit of a resident cat expert out of necessity. Pet health was relevant to me and what I care about and what I spend so much energy thinking about,” Brooks says. “When I adopted Neko, she had been taking steroids for a stomach issue (IBD). It turned out that was an extreme step taken by the shelter because it was the easiest way for them to deal with it. She actually just needed better care, better food, and a loving home.”
With the goal of helping pet parents give more consistent at-home care, the two started building Vetted right away. They led a team at Booth through the 2021 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, one of the top-ranked startup accelerator programs in the nation. They won the People’s Choice award and third place, raising nearly a quarter million dollars in funding and refining their pitch and message. They launched a beta version of the platform in August 2021. In October, they announced $1.5 million in funding from angel investors. Vetted has a team of seven, nearly all Boothies, and an official launch slated for February 2022.
“A huge purpose in my life is to give [my cat Neko] a better life. When I think about what we’re doing with Vetted, it’s enabling more people to give a better life to their pet. And that feels really good.”
Cadena and Brooks both chose Booth for its entrepreneurial focus. The school has supported the venture from the beginning, Cadena says, starting with the hardworking team it provided during the New Venture Challenge. It also allowed the two to decelerate their degrees to focus on the business together.
“When we spoke about the issues with pet health, we both felt very, very strongly about them,” Cadena says. “And Ashley has skill sets I don’t have. I knew that we were the perfect team to launch and operate this together.”
Their skills are the perfect blend to build the business. Brooks’s technical and digital marketing background dovetails with Cadena’s sales and entrepreneurial experience—and networking chops.
“Maya likes to joke that she ‘courted’ me because when we met, I had already been focused on starting another business,” says Brooks, whose original vision when she started at Booth was to go solo in restaurant tech. “But the truth is, when I heard Maya’s story, my first thought was ‘this woman is a badass and I wish I could work with her.’ I’m very grateful I was able to find a cofounder like her here at Booth.”
Through an app and mailed kits, Vetted uses an annual membership model to enable preventive care at home. Brooks says the app is like “a good friend who happens to be a veterinarian” and an executive assistant rolled into one. A 24-7 chat connects vet professionals with members who have day-to-day questions, and the app also organizes health records and sends preventive-care reminders.
Members receive a health kit in the mail a few times a year—flea, tick, and heartworm medications; a mail-in fecal test; nail trimmers; and supplies for cleaning teeth and ears. For care that only a veterinarian can provide, membership reimburses two semiannual visits, vaccinations, tests, and other in-office care.
While they estimate their service will cut pet care bills by a third, Cadena and Brooks say longer, happier pet lives—and top-notch pet care from home—is what motivates them.
“A huge purpose in my life is to give her a better life,” Brooks says of Neko. “When I think about what we’re doing with Vetted, it’s enabling more people to give a better life to their pet. And that feels really good.”