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CVM Students Place Second in
Veterinary Innovation Challenge

Nick Harrison and Brandon Thornberry, third-year students at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, placed second in the Veterinary Innovation Challenge, an international competition designed to encourage entrepreneurial thinking and innovative ideas among veterinary students.

Imagine a petsitter is caring for your dog while you are out of town when the dog suddenly develops severe breathing problems. The sitter rushes him to a veterinary hospital. In an emergency, time and health history are of the essence. But the sitter probably won’t know the pet’s full history, and quickly gathering medical records from your pet’s regular veterinarian can be nearly impossible.

To address this and related problems, MU College of Veterinary Medicine students Brandon Thornberry and Nick Harrison have developed a veterinary innovation, MyDVM. They recently won second place for the business idea in the Veterinary Innovation Challenge, an international competition designed to encourage entrepreneurial thinking and innovative ideas among veterinary students to help drive the future of the industry.

The third-year students won $5,000 in the competition, which was founded by University of Pennsylvania veterinary students. Veterinary students from American Veterinary Medical Association-accredited schools had to lead the teams, but people from other disciplines could be team members.

Developing their business plan was a time-intensive process, Thornberry and Harrison said. Thirty-four teams submitted proposals in May, and in June the top eight finalists were announced. They had until August to submit a more formal and detailed business plan. In September they traveled to Philadelphia to present their ideas before judges who evaluated the quality of the business plans and viability of the ideas.

Although he admitted the finals competition was a little nerve-wracking, Harrison said he and Thornberry prepared extensively for their presentation and were confident their idea could succeed. They were extremely impressed by all of the ideas presented during the finals, and both said they were somewhat surprised when the winners were announced.

“We were confident going into the finals and knew we had given a strong presentation,” Thornberry said. “It was so neat to see all our hard work culminate” in a second-place finish.

Because they plan to develop their idea into an actual business, the duo isn’t divulging many details right now. Their general description is as follows: “MyDVM is on the forefront of the next generation of communication, information sharing and diagnostics within veterinary medicine. Through MyDVM services, pet owners will be able to engage with their veterinarian in a manner unlike anything that currently exists within the animal health industry.”

“Our business idea centers on addressing a need to enhance communication between the veterinarian and pet owner, as well as addressing a need in emergency medicine for information in a pet’s medical history to be more immediately available,” Thornberry said.

The idea developed from real-world experience, lessons learned in veterinary school and research.

“Each of us had a vision for how we wanted to help the veterinary industry, and when we started thinking together, we merged our ideas into one business plan,” Thornberry said. “We started getting into the entrepreneur mindset about how to bring our ideas to fruition, and entering this competition helped us to really work out the details.”

Both students had an interest in business before the competition. Harrison and Thornberry are members of the Veterinary Business Management Association, which provides business education to veterinary students all over the world. Thornberry was the president of Missouri’s VBMA chapter last year and is now the association’s national marketing director. Harrison served as secretary of the Missouri VBMA board.

To supplement their classroom and VBMA education, the team did extensive research about the veterinary industry, business management and finances, and how to connect with and penetrate the market, Harrison said. The process was extremely educational, Thornberry said.

“Just like veterinary medicine in the classroom, you can really only learn so much from a Powerpoint,” he said. “You have to get out there and try and not be afraid of failure.”

Thornberry’s father, a St. Louis veterinarian, and his uncle, a certified public accountant, served as mentors for the team. Ron Cott, associate dean of Student and Alumni Affairs and director of Advancement, also gave the students guidance as they prepared their presentation.

“The college is extremely proud of having two of our students represent us in a nonscientific area in regards to entrepreneurship,” Cott said. “It speaks highly of their commitment to their education and their understanding that it goes beyond their scientific knowledge base.”

Over the summer the students filed a patent and began investigating resources to make their idea a reality. They intend to file for a business license by the end of the year and immediately begin creating the product and service once they gather the necessary investor capital.

“The ultimate goal is to get it into the marketplace,” Harrison said.

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Last Update: February 29, 2012