2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: PetPax, Babson College (Olin)

PetPax Co.

Babson College, F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business

Industry: Pet Wellness

Founding Student Name(s): Nathan S.K. Ruff and Anthony L. Gatti

Brief Description of Solution: PetPax Co is a pet wellness company that offers an innovative calming solution for dogs called ZenMelts. By leveraging oral thin film technology, we have been able to create a calming product that uses superior, human grade ingredients, with significantly higher absorption rates that result in immediate calming for your hyperactive or anxious dog. One strip is all it takes!

Funding Dollars: Currently we have raised $40k, with another $50-75K committed by investors. We are looking to raise another $160K to fulfill our seed round funding goal of $250K.

What led you to launch this venture? Anthony and I met in Babson’s New Venture Creations course, and I was thrilled to meet another smart, like-minded individual. He was curious and had another great idea that he wanted to pursue, but I wanted him on my team. So, I campaigned to build a small team in the NVC class, and succeeded. We pivoted a couple of times between the company name and product offerings, but we both realized that we have a passion for animals. As dog dads – I have two, and Anthony has one – we both understand the importance of pets in our lives and decided to pursue a venture that helped us improve their quality of life.

One of my two dogs, Luna, has terrible separation anxiety. I was receiving calls in the middle of classes from my apartment building manager with noise complaints from neighbors about her barking.  I tried every calming product out there for her. She was allergic to many, as they often contain chicken meal and bone meal, and others containing CBD were just plain ineffective. In dreaming up PetPax Co., Anthony and I had already thought about using oral thin film technology for our idea, so we set out to figure out how we could use that to calm my anxious pup.

We did more research and found a manufacturer who could build the product we had envisioned and got to work. They sent samples to us to test and try with our own pets. We talked with a veterinarian, who is in the process of joining our Board of Advisors, who made sure that our dosing was agreeable for dogs and thus ZenMelts by PetPax Co. were born!

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? We have had so many great and meaningful accomplishments thus far. In the spring of this year, we entered the Babson Acceleration Club’s (BAC) pitch competition. We placed first and were able to negotiate $20K in funding from a VC who saw us present. We also got to meet Uri Levine, the founder of Waze, which was a fantastic bonus!

After the BAC pitch, we were fortunate enough to be accepted into the Summer Venture Program (SVP), Babson’s flagship entrepreneurial accelerator for 10 weeks during the summer. It was a brilliant opportunity and experience for us personally and as a business.

SVP was filled with mentors and industry experts, office hours, and more; that helped each of the 14 businesses involved progress to the next step. Whether that looked like providing legal or strategic help, there was something for each of the companies involved. We personally were able to create some merchandise, come up with sales strategies, and interact with many new investors. The experience provided was invaluable, giving Anthony and I direction and support, something we had not had access to until then. We were each able to focus on different areas of the business, with the guidance of some brilliant industry experts, and used the time and the resources provided to hone in and develop a strategy so that we can keep PetPax Co. running smoothly and for a long time.

What has been the most significant challenge you’ve faced in creating your company and how did you solve it? There have been a few challenges. I think the first is a lack of resources at the beginning of our journey. Bootstrapping is no easy feat. Our team, along with a couple of friends’ investment, were able to get the company off the ground running. The biggest challenge has been that we are a team of just two – especially at the start – before we had been connected with our mentors and advisors. Having to juggle multiple hats is challenging, but it’s what we had to do. We relied on our networks and the resources available (mostly through Babson) to help us in our efforts. Babson gave us space in what they call the “Hatchery” where they provide entrepreneurs and new businesses office space to work on their growing enterprises.

Another challenge we faced was finding a manufacturer who we could afford. There are not many manufacturers for oral thin film products like ours, so it took a while to find someone within our proposed budget. We were able to raise a friends and family funding round that gave us the capital to order our first batch, which has since arrived and is preparing to be shipped out to customers.

We have since hired an intern that aids in event planning and an agency to help us run our social media accounts, which allows Anthony and I to truly focus on business development, sales and strategic partnerships with other local businesses.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture?

Nathan: My MBA program has been an exciting one for many reasons, but one of the most significant has been the opportunity to work with a very diverse cohort. I am originally from the UK, so it was nice not to be the only person in the room with an accent! It was truly amazing to hear and see different, global perspectives that I was not so used to in my previous line of work. Babson opened my eyes to the possibilities of owning my own business and creating my own products. The first class day of my MBA journey, we were put into groups for the BETA X challenge. This placed me into a group of great thinkers who were ready and eager to rise to any challenge. I do wish that there was more support for international students, as that group was an amazing team who worked very well together (but due to visa restrictions, could not legally work in the US). However, it was New Venture Creations that led me and Anthony to meet and create our product and business. NVC propelled us forward at a rate that I did not expect, but it was Anthony’s equal passion for this that made this an easier project to continue.

I think that the entrepreneurial spirit is so alive and buzzing at Babson that is palpable. People are always talking about a new venture they heard about or one they are thinking of starting. Teams are formed every day, and so that was very intoxicating to be around — in a good way.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you?

Nathan: I always thought that it was my grandfather. He had moved from Bangladesh to the UK and was a doctor. He had a couple of practices in the UK where he and my family lived, and he was a very well-respected member of the community. He serviced all of the Bangladeshi and Indian patients in the area where they lived. It wasn’t until recently that I learned that all of his drive came from my grandmother. She was born to a father who believed that women should have equal rights and education. She was sent to college (something most women of her generation were not able to do). She dreamed of becoming a doctor but women were not allowed in medical school in Bangladesh back then (the 1950’s). After getting a degree in English, she began teaching at the international school while my grandfather was in the UK.

My Nani, as we call her, was the driving force behind my grandfather. He was quite content to work in the ER, but she convinced him that having normal hours and a practice of his own was much more lucrative. She then helped him open another practice and they did very well for themselves. They were the British dream.

This example has been forever ingrained in my memory and my own mother is very entrepreneurial herself, working full time in big pharma and buying, renting, and selling properties on the side as her own business. She has always told me that to be successful financially, you have to diversify your income streams, so that’s where I get a lot of my inspiration. This is the American dream!

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? New Venture Creations with Andrew Corbett was probably the most formative of the classes we have taken. This is where Nathan came up with the idea to make strips and convinced Anthony into thinking that it was a good idea – no, a great idea! From here, we, as a team, created the product, pivoted towards animal patients, and were able to pitch our idea and continue to grow the business. We have made a few pivots along the way, changing direction and even our name, but we arrived at PetPax Co., the pet peace people.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why?

Nathan: There are a couple who have made a big impact on my plans both for my business and personally. PJ Guinan has been a great mentor to me. She helped me to hone my interview skills and to land my internship during my MBA. She has always believed in me and been a real cheerleader in my corner, even hiring me as her research assistant last year. She attended the BAC pitch competition and the SVP final showcase this summer, always offering help and even connected us to our fabulous new intern.

Another person who has made a significant impact on my experience is Andrew Corbett. He’s a great professor, and helped push Anthony and I to start this business after his New Venture Creations class. He has helped to connect us to the right people within the Babson ecosystem and is always excited to hear our updates, as well as lend a helping hand when we need help or a sounding board. We are very grateful to him as a team and he’s been a great resource to PetPax Co. since day one.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success?
We have been very lucky to have started to build out our own ecosystem within the Babson community. SVP provided us with so many resources, from legal help to strategy planning. We were also able to get some very valuable office space during my MBA. Babson allows students to apply for office space in a space called the Hatchery. so we can work on our ventures, and this space was used to take meetings with investors and other key partners and to strategize during the year.

We feel very fortunate as a business to be a part of the Babson ecosphere. We have been able to emcee the kick-off event for the Blank Center and were also asked to sit on a panel for the BAC club (whose pitch competition we won last year!). There are so many exciting opportunities that have been presented to us and we cannot wait to see what the future holds.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? We have a long-term vision for PetPax Co. We have already identified the next functional areas that we intend to bring to market in the coming year, including pet probiotics, one of the top sellers on Amazon’s marketplace. It’s our mission to help pets with every day and chronic issues, so we have identified a pipeline of potential products that our manufacturer is able to create.


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