Equine Healthcare

SSUC Editor
Mar 9, 2020 · 8 min read

Dorina Thiess, CEO and Founder of Swiss-based company Piavita shares her vision and mission, and her story of entrepreneurship. She reveals the upside of entering into a business partnership with a life partner; and indicates how Piavita is set to make waves in the area of digitizing equine health care.

By Aradhna Sethi

Dorina Thiess, CEO and Founder of Piavita

There’s an air of quiet and composed self-confidence about Dr. Dorina Thiess — the entrepreneur who is determined to revolutionize equine care and make life easier for the horses and large animal veterinarians.

Dorina sips on her cappuccino as shares her start-up story, “I had come to Switzerland from Germany to do my PhD in entrepreneurship at the University of St Gallen. During that time, I was also the Managing Director at the Centre of Entrepreneurship and taught entrepreneurship, coaching students to start their own ventures. One day, Sascha approached me and asked if I could help him with this technology that he had developed.” She continues, “I had known him for a while already and I was so impressed by his idea and concept that I decided to jump on board myself.”

In March 2016, the two individuals founded Piavita AG.

A business partner who’s also a life partner…
While Dorina brings in the entrepreneurial component as founder and CEO, Sascha adds the technological and engineering component to the business as the founder, CTO and creative director. In addition to this business partnership, Dorina and Sascha are partners in life.

Imagine living with your work partner and working with your life partner. Does she recommend this? What about work-life balance?

She smiles saying, “I see the pros. From the investors point on view, this is great! It should be encouraged because you will never have a founding team that is always together. There is literally no time when we would not be available or join forces immediately to tackle any business matter — no matter what day or time it is! We can drop anything to plunge into a business emergency. At a personal level, you have to make a distinction between private and business time and learn to switch off. It’s about discipline… about time management.”

She adds, “I am surprised at why this concept is so surprising to so many! Family businesses are some of the oldest businesses we have in Switzerland. Every farmer we see, and most mid-sized companies are family businesses. Not only does the spouse contribute to support it, but also the children and next generations work together with a passion and commitment in the belief and fundamentals of the business. The biggest danger of startups to fail is the falling apart of founding members, so if you have a stable relationship — the danger there is way less. I don’t see us as being unique, I just see us as creating a family business like so many others out there. Moreover, family businesses are scientifically more sustainable, more profitable, and more successful in the long run. So, it really is an upside for life partners to be in a venture together.”

The Startup Journey
With Piavita founded on a solid personal and professional foundation, in 2016, the duo received their first round of funding from Swiss investors, the Zuercher Kantonal Bank and business angel investors. In 2017, Piavita produced its first minimum viable product — a wearable medical device — and developed it further.

“Through Switzerland’s CTI coaching, we got in touch with an animal clinic in Switzerland with the idea to test this technology before we take it to the humans. But when we entered the clinic for the first time, we were surprised at how non-digital and non-innovative the whole setting was, and how manual the processes were. From simple monitoring to post-operative monitoring, night supervision had to be done in person and the medical staff had to go from box to box to check on the horses. Which meant, they had no idea what really happened to the horses and how they were doing medically the moment the staff left the horse. That’s when we thought that we could enable remote monitoring and faster access to more precise vital signs as the abilities to monitor the vitals or general wellbeing of a non-anesthetized horse or even a standing horse is very limited. We saw a huge market there.”

Finally, mass production started in the spring of 2018. Today, with three rounds of funding Piavita has raised USD9.5 million from several investors, including True Ventures and Fyrfly Venture Partners from the US. The company has evolved into a multidisciplinary team of engineers, veterinarians, innovation specialists and designers.

The innovative solution
“Essentially, the solution is a medical wearable that is combined with all the apps we have developed in equine health care,” says Dorina. “We started with a proprietary technology that enables this device to precisely measure medical vital signs through the layers of the coat or fur or the animals.”

The wireless device is plugged into a mounting unit or belt that is then wrapped around the horse’s body. This makes high-precision measurements of vital signs through the animal’s coat and transfers the data to the Piavita web-based app. The veterinarians can then easily track and monitor the health of the animal, without being there all the time — and with a non-invasive technique that captures the uninfluenced state of the horse’s health.

For example, she says, “Within just a few minutes, we do a complete electro-cardiogram (ECG). Normally, this would normally need preparation time of approximately x. 30 minutes. The method is non-invasive and needs no shaving or wiring. This implies that the horse remains uninfluenced or does not sense any degree of stress. With the ECG, we generate the heartrate at all intervals. We measure the respiration and lung condition, and the body temperature at the heart. The animal simply wears the belt — that’s it! We don’t influence the normal behavior of the horse.”

Dorina says, “The more we dived into the equine treatment business, the more we realized how huge this market is — and how strong the need to digitize is in order to improve efficiency in animal health care. It’s actually multibillion-dollar industry with a large number of related industries and we are just scratching the surface of the possibilities in the equine industry. And we are firmly planting ourselves here!”

In simple words, the scope of this technology goes out to every aspect of equine health. From monitoring to analyzing to developing new drugs — there is an entire realm of scope. Drug development is one of the projects they are starting to work with leading US university clinics. A large amount of data gathered over days, weeks and months, then analyzed and evaluated to observe the effect of drugs with a lot more precision.

A focused approach:
How about expanding Piavita into other large animals — bovines for example, or smaller animals? She says, “Smaller animals make their illness or discomfort felt. They are always in the house or in close vicinity to you. So, if they are unwell, you notice and take them to the vet. But in case of a larger animal, you don’t spend more than an hour or two at the stable or farm. So, the association is limited. Transferring the Piavita solution to other large animals is not a focus at the moment. It’s another developmental step. But for us, it’s important to focus on one thing, and get it right without distractions at the moment.”

The competition:
Perhaps none at the moment as they are the only non-invasive, digitized solution using AI, with the largest pool of knowledge data. Piavita brings the veterinary industry into the digital age. The Piavet System is a hardware-enabled intelligent assistance toolset to support the veterinarian with a fast, easy-to-use and smart combination of the Piavet Sensor Technology and the Piavet Cloud Applications.

Challenges:
Bringing about a cultural shift in equine health care. She says, “It’s still a very manual, labour- and time-intensive field. We put a lot of effort in education and in general communication around digitization. We need to explain what it really means to work more with data than directly with the patient all the time, what it means to work with more information that you’ve ever had — this can be overwhelming at times. We spend a lot of time in the customer journey. It’s not just a sale of solutions for us — but a journey with the client that involves onboarding efforts, time with the clients, visits, etc.

More reasons to invest in Piavita
Dorina throws in some more points to ponder over: “We are entering a disregarded industry — there has been no crucial innovation in this field. It’s a huge market and opportunity — an underserved one that screams for innovation. And in that way, it’s actually kind of typical investment case where investors can say, ‘We found an angle where you can really move something’ — although we are untypical startup with a unique touchpoint… It’s motivating! We’ve crossed the relevant milestones — our product is working, we have our first clients, we are in fact now in seven European countries and in the US. We’ve seen the impact and it’s been 100% worth the effort. What we do makes sense and has the potential to create a huge impact changing the day to day of lives of veterinarians.”

She concludes her interview saying, “We now plan to have a stronger growth-oriented approach in the US and build up the team there. At the same time, we will restructure European deals, look out for co-operations and strategic partnerships. There’s a blue ocean of opportunities for us!”

On the investor side, there is a significant amount of interest shown by Swiss Startup Capital AG, Investor Club — which has a dedicated team of experts that strongly focus on technology-driven startups.

Philipp Steinberger, Head of Investors Club, Swiss Startup Capital AG, says, “We strongly believe in Piavita because of Dorina Thiess, the very driven and competent founder, and the global potential of the product.”

He adds, “I think that an investment in Piavita bears a lot of potential. Today’s application in the equestrian market is only at the beginning of its global rollout. China as future market or applications in other verticals will strongly impact the company’s growth going forward, translating into higher valuations and therefore exit potential.”

Dorina Thiess, CEO and Founder of Piavita

Swiss Startup Capital