Lincoln Entrepreneur's Business Thrives During Pandemic

July 13, 2020, noon ·

Sara Steinkruger (left) and Lizz Whitacre (right) discuss the Pawlytics system. (Photo by Brandon McDermott, NET News)

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The coronavirus pandemic has not only forced the temporary shutdowns of businesses and the loss of jobs of many Nebraskans, it has also caused the permanent shutdowns of some businesses unable to financially make it through the lockdown. One business has found itself pandemic-proof, not only surviving, but thriving over the past few months.

It’s pretty obvious Lizz Whitacre loves animals. Walking into her house, visitors are greeted by four dogs and three cats – all of them rescues. Her life revolves around animals. She’s the owner and CEO of Lincoln-based start-up Pawlytics, a combination of the words “paw” and “analytics”.

A screenshot of what the Pawlytics system looks like for subscribers. (Courtesy Lizz Whitacre)

The last time we visited with her, she had just graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and hadn’t even launched Pawlytics yet. Now, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, her business is thriving, with more than 80 paying customers. But Pawlytics wasn’t her first try at being an entrepreneur.

“I mean, you have to keep in mind this is my fourth attempt at running, building, and growing a company,” Whitacre said. “And so my journey has been riddled with failures and a lot of different hard lessons along the way.”

Those failures shaped Whitacre to be the sharp, savvy businesswoman she is today. Pawlytics started as a data management system for animal shelters and rescues to help improve the adoption process. After working to help shelters and pet rescues save the lives of their animals, she had an idea. Why not use the microchips commonly implanted in pets to access more of their data?

“To be able to capture this data that's going to be able to save more homeless pets and make pets lives’ better who are already in a home,” Whitacre said.

Before, only basic contact info – a pet’s name, owner’s name and phone number were on the microchip. Not anymore. Instead of passing records between shelters, control facilities and rescues, Whitacre wanted to expand it and share the information with vet clinics, boarding kennels, and groomers. Whitacre knew she was onto something big.

“Pet owners will be able to have a full transparent record of everything that's happened to their pet from the moment that microchip was implanted and potentially even before that, as long as the data is entered,” Whitacre said. “Anyone touching the animal has instant access to the most updated information of that pet.”

The extra information will help in a lot of ways. When a pet gets adopted from a shelter, families usually take the animal to a family clinic to get a checkup and vaccinations. Sometimes they go to a trainer or groomer. Right now, information on these animals isn’t shared between organizations very efficiently according to Whitacre. That’s where Pawlytics comes in.

“It’s really nice for the trainer to have all the health information so that they can be aware of any old injuries or why an animal might be misbehaving,” Whitacre said.

There are different manufacturers for the microchips, but no one database where the data is stored. Pawlytics has filled that need. It means less paperwork because the data is saved in the Pawlytics system. Every contact that pet has at every stop will be noted, saved and shared. That means less guessing for vets when treating a rescued pet, which means better diagnoses and longer lives for animals. The pandemic has closed many businesses and tightened belts for many business owners. Not so with Pawlytics.

“For us, everything has trended upward through coronavirus because the need for taking care of animals doesn't go away when there's a pandemic,” Whitacre said.

Whitacre says animal welfare is a staple in our society. When the shutdown happened, there was a spike in pet fostering and adoptions. Whitacre noticed the trend.

“Now coronavirus has really been able to prove that out for us as well that our customers aren't going anywhere and that need will always be a need,” Whitacre said.

Pawlytics has actually grown during the pandemic, hiring two people including Sara Steinkruger, who serves as the chief customer officer. Steinkruger says the pandemic is helping them reach new customers.

“We're growing and we want to help you grow,” Steinkruger said. “And in the end, we're all here to help you save more animals.”

She says animal shelters have a massive need for better software, especially during the pandemic. It’s a message that hits home with shelters and animal control facilities.

“Once I get them on the phone and talk them through and show them our product, I would say it's honestly a pretty easy sell,” Steinkruger said.

Whitacre says COVID-19 has pushed animal shelters to shift from just sheltering animals to fostering them as well.

“So we're moving into a space where we're going to be working and trying to help larger animal shelters and animal control facilities that are dealing with a bulk of the animals across the nation that are homeless,” Whitacre said.

The hiring of Steinkruger, a native Nebraskan who moved away after college, shows Whitacre’s commitment to Nebraska.

“I feel so lucky to have started this company in Lincoln and in Nebraska and I want to do everything I possibly can to give back to this state because I don't feel like I would have been able to build this type of platform living anywhere else,” Whitacre said.

Pawlytics has officially been in the market for 11 months, with data on 15,000 animals so far. Whitacre plans to fully launch the product into market next year at this time, with the goal to become the world’s largest pet database. It’s a lofty goal, but the world has learned not to take Whitacre’s dreams lightly.