Barkibu, the Spanish pet telemedicine startup, has raised $5.6m to advance its plans to become “the Apple Health of petcare”.
The startup, founded in 2015, offers pet owners a range of pet health services, from a free AI-powered triage service that allows pet owners to figure out if their pet needs medical attention or not, to a subscription service for in-person consultations with veterinarians — and the insurance to cover the cost.
The core mission is to create a powerful library of pet health data.
But the core mission, says Alvaro Gutierrez, coCEO, is to create a powerful library of pet health data that can be used for everything from improving diagnosis of diseases to changing the way that pets are insured.
“We want to be the Apple Health of pets, a one-stop-shop where you can have all your pet’s information,” he told Sifted. “We are building a structured database of pet health that can begin to build correlations, for example, linking clinical data and insurance data to see how health conditions progress, and how treatments affect them.”
Barkibu has already trained its chatbot algorithms on 800k+ veterinary consultations, combined with data from insurance claims. The startup has an insurance partnership with Munich Re, and also partners with a number of pet care companies, offering them the AI healthcare chatbot as a white-label service. It works, for example, with Mars Petcare in the US. In exchange, Barkibu gets access to ever more pet health data.
Gutierrez says the Covid-19 led to a surge of interest in their platform.
Everyone who has a pet audience wants to provide telehealth services.
“Everyone who has a pet audience wants to provide telehealth services,” he said.
There have been a number of pet telemedicine acquisitions in the last six months, including the UK’s PawSquad being acquired by IVC Evidensia, the European veterinary group, Pets at Home, buying Vet Connection for £15m in November, and Swedish insurer Agria buying digital vet service Vethem in September.
With people adopting animals in record numbers during the pandemic, the pet tech market is expected to skyrocket from $4.5bn in 2018, to $20bn by 2025, and is attracting investments from both VC and strategic players.
“The pet sector is going through a sweet spot right now. There is a strong underlying growth trend in pet health — increasing treatment options and Covid-19 are teaching people to think of health as something that happens outside the clinic,” Gutierrez told Sifted. Gutierrez is a veteran of the pet tech sector, having cofounded Kiwiko, Spain's largest pet retail and veterinary chain back in 2007.
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Because pet owners don’t see the expenses as optional, the industry is considered to be recession-proof.
“With so many people choosing to get a pet during lockdown, pet healthtech is on the rise,” said Laura Gonzalez-Estefani, founder and CEO of Miami-based TheVentureCity, which participated in the latest funding round. “Because pet owners don’t see the expenses as optional, the industry is considered to be recession-proof, and it will thrive despite the current economic dip we are witnessing.”
The new funding round, which brings in TheVentureCity, MundiVentures, CDTI Innvierte as new investors, is aimed at helping the business grow its reach. While the healthcare chatbot is available everywhere, the full subscription package of clinical visits and insurance — launched about a month ago — is currently only available in Spain. The plan is to expand in Spain this year, then to European markets like Germany, France and the UK next year. Expansion to the US will follow after that, helped in part by the US investors that have come on board.
“Insurance in the US is more complicated, but it will happen,” said Gutierrez. “We are already working in the US through partners.”
In addition to simply spreading the service worldwide, the dream for Gutierrez and his team of 30 is to make real breakthroughs in animal health through the collection of this big dataset.
Pet health may surpass human health because it is easier to introduce new technology.
“Pet health may surpass human health because it is easier to introduce new technology and mass data collection is also easier — mass interpretation of X-rays or broader genetic testing. You can have more visibility of what a pet is eating — humans lie about skipping the diet or having a drink but pets eat more or less the same thing every day,” said Gutierrez, adding that this could allow us to get a deeper understanding of the interplay between diet, exercise and various health treatments.
“There may be some areas where it can move faster than human health,” he said.