In 2016, the founders of Kibus Petcare believed they had such a good idea for a disruptive tech solution that they decided to start a company there and then, despite having no knowledge of hardware design.
“We noticed that pets these days are like children to a lot of pet owners, who are trying to give them better nutrition than standard pet food,” the company's CEO and co-founder, Albert Icart Martori, told CompassList at the recent industrial tech event IQS Tech Fest in Barcelona.
“Seeing how much tech is changing so many aspects of basic daily life, we thought we would do the same for pet owners and create an automated household appliance to cook healthy, fresh food for cats and dogs.”
It took almost two years before the founders could begin work on their product – a smart device that automatically cooks pet food from dehydrated ingredients that come in capsules, and then dispenses the food, at programmable fixed times during the day.
In a little over one year since they began, Kibus has been lauded with prizes and support, from the Spanish and Catalonian governments, supermarket tycoon Juan Roig's Lanzadera accelerator and Nestlé Purina. The company is now looking to launch its hardware globally in the second half of 2020.
“Until now, pet food has been highly processed, using an extrusion process with the ingredients at high temperatures of 100 degrees celsius, killing a high proportion of the nutrients,” said Icart. “While some people now cook for their animals so they can eat better, it's time-consuming and a hassle. That's why we saw a huge market opportunity.”
Icart has a point. In the US alone, roughly two out of three households now own a dog. Annual spending on all US pets reached $95.7bn in 2019, more than doubling from $45.5bn 10 years ago. New, healthier lines of pet food are constantly coming onto the marketplace.
Icart was the third generation in his family to work for their 65-year-old pet food brand Picart Petcare, before coming up with the idea jointly with fellow co-founders COO Marta Arisa and CFO Albert Homs Basas. Kibus was set up as an entirely different company to Picart to reflect the three co-founders joint contribution and development.
So why did the team not just create a healthy dog food brand under the existing Picart company?
“Not only do you need to create a whole cold chain, meaning the price goes up, but the owner has to be there in person to serve it,” Icart said. He cited examples of people making a long journey home from work at lunchtime just to feed their pets.
“With Kibus, you can program the daily quantity your pet needs and the time for it to be dispensed. Then the machine automatically cooks it without the owner having to be at home."
The hardware uses 1.5kg capsules of dehydrated food specifically designed for the hardware and consisting of meat, rice, fruit and vegetables. The company decided at the outset to use dehydrated food for its conservation properties.
“At Kibus, we balance all the essential nutrients in the capsule: carbs, protein, fiber and fat in the quantities that the animal really needs," Icart said. "We just remove the water to better conserve the product.”
Each 1.5kg capsule provides enough food for a medium-sized dog for a whole week and the capsules last for more than one year at room temperature. “The capsule keeps all the flavor and ingredients fresh because, unlike with extrusion in normal dry pet food, the water is removed at low temperatures keeping almost all the nutrients. It's also healthy, helping to solve the common problem of obesity in pets,” said Icart.
Another unique benefit of the technology is that it serves each meal at 38 degrees Celsius because, “it's the ideal temperature for pets to eat at, being the same temperature as a freshly hunted animal. It also improves the taste. No other product can match this,” said Icart.
Kibus's compact hardware, measuring 38cm in height, is placed on the floor so that the pet can eat directly from its serving bowl. The device contains a water tank and a holder for the food capsule. There are several flavors of capsule available.
IoT sensors, app
The Kibus founding team won a spot in Hong Kong-based accelerator Brinc's specialized program for hardware and IoT startups in 2019, which proved invaluable to its development. Besides extensive learning about the technologies and receiving mentoring, the company met possible future manufacturers for its hardware in Chinese hardware hub Shenzhen. None of the founders had previous experience in developing technology and farmed out the production of the first units to a local industrial designer.
A pet owner using Kibus's device programs how many daily grams of prepared food the animal needs and the time to be fed and the machine cooks the exact amount at that time, Both food and water are first weighed inside the unit then the water is heated to 60 degrees Celsius, a temperature that does not degrade nutrients, before being mixed with the food to rehydrate it.
The pet's food bowl is in a drawer that enters the machine at the specified time and comes out automatically when the temperature hits 38 degrees Celsius.
“Finally, a speaker calls the animal to tell them that their meal is ready,” Icart said.
Kibus uses smart sensors within the hardware that measure levels of food and water in the device and advice owners when more of each needs to be added. A temperature sensor also ensures the freshly prepared food is served at the correct heat.
The company is currently designing a mobile app to allow the hardware to be programmed or reprogrammed remotely. At present, users need to program the device before leaving home. A future addition will be a camera for owners to view their pets remotely.
This third version of the hardware is the first to function perfectly in under one year since product development began and is currently being evaluated by ten users of Nestlé Purina pet food under the Open Innovation program of Lanzadera. In addition to validation with users over a trial period, the program also gives Kibus access to Lanzadera mentors and heads of different business areas at Purina after the company picked Kibus as the most relevant project under the scheme.
Affordable and scalable
The company plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise €200,000 on Kickstarter in May or June 2020, once validation is finalized and prior to commercial launch later in the year.
“This will allow us to go global right away and have mass production of approximately 1,000 units with a competitive price to encourage as many people as possible to own the hardware,” said Icart.
The expected retail price of the unit will be €199. The food capsules will create recurrent revenue and “will cost about the same as premium dry food – so about €1 per day for a small dog or cat,” said Icart.
The startup aims to sell both hardware and capsules on its website, as well as using Picart Petcare's distribution network to access its large customer base of vets and pet stores in 25 different countries. Kibus has also made contacts in the US, China, Japan, India and Hong Kong – countries that it intends to enter via a local partner.
The co-founding team makes the food capsules themselves at present and says the process is simple. As it scales, however, the company will probably outsource this service, too. Besides its final product evaluation, Kibus is currently evaluating a move to the city of Barcelona in anticipation of its expected growth and is currently seeking its fourth member of staff: a CTO. It will also seek its first traditional seed funding round to enable commercial launch and to employ a marketing specialist.
To date, Kibus has been funded by €120,000 invested by Picart in exchange for 10% of equity and has received public support in the form of €250,000 in NEOTEC innovation funding from the Spanish government's Center for Industrial Technological Development (CDTI). It has also received €75,000 in startup capital from the Catalonian government's Agency for Business Competitiveness, ACCIO.