ASU startup introduces innovative alternative to traditional pet care options

June 24, 2014

While working as a kennel assistant at a boarding facility for pets, Arizona State University alumna Paige Corbett saw firsthand how stressful it was for animals to stay in an unfamiliar environment while their owners were gone.

“Some pets sat sadly in the corners waiting for their owners to return, while others would romp around and get in fights,” Corbett said. “It started to make sense why my dog would drag her feet and whine whenever my family went out of town and had to board her.” Screen capture of PetSitnStay website Download Full Image

Corbett, who graduated from ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business in December 2013 with a degree in accounting, was determined to offer pet owners an alternative to commercial boarding facilities. In October 2013, she teamed up with fellow W. P. Carey student Aaron Grove to create PetSitnStay, an online matching service that connects pet owners with local animal lovers willing to provide in-home pet care. The pair launched the beta version of the site in April of this year.

“As a student in my entrepreneurship class a few years ago, Paige knew she wanted to start something and was able to explore how to follow her passion through creating a viable business,” said Sidnee Peck, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the W. P. Carey School and an entrepreneurship faculty member. “She and Aaron are excellent examples of students who have really capitalized on the resources available to them as WPC and ASU students and alumni. Their proactive insight and hard work are really paying off for them.”

With PetSitnStay, pets are cared for in their own homes or in caregivers’ homes while their owners are away, minimizing the stress of their owners’ absence. Rather than being confined to a cage in a boarding facility with other animals, pets remain in a home environment, where they can get individual attention.

“Our mission is to provide the safest and most loving environment for your pets while you’re away,” Corbett said. “We want your pets to receive the same care they would at home.”

In addition, PetSitnStay simplifies the process of arranging pet care for owners and caregivers alike. Owners can search the site’s list of pet sitters by location, cost and other criteria and determine the best match for their pets. Sitters, who set their own rates, have access to online tools to manage the scheduling and payment processes.

Corbett and Grove started PetSitnStay with the help of ASU’s Great Little Companies (GLC) Network, which provides funding and mentorship to early-stage student startups at ASU. The support from the GLC Network enabled them to take their idea and develop it into a viable startup company. Thanks in part to the company’s success in the GLC Network, earlier this month PetSitnStay was accepted into ASU’s Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, an intensive startup accelerator in the university’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development that offers funding, office space, exclusive training opportunities and mentorship to student startups.

“PetSitnStay exemplifies why we established the GLC Network: to support student startup companies in their quest to be stronger contenders for the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative,” said ASU venture manager Tracy Lea, who leads the Edson initiative. “Paige and Aaron demonstrated significant progress during their time in the GLC Network, which made PetSitnStay an obvious choice for the Edson program this year.”

Corbett and Grove will use the funding from the Edson initiative to expand the company's offerings to other cities and add new features to the site. Currently, PetSitnStay’s service is available only in Arizona, but Corbett and Grove have plans to expand to other locations soon, including California and Texas.

“PetSitnStay has launched at the optimal time,” Grove said. “‘Sharing economy’ companies are booming, and our peer-to-peer model allows us to take advantage of this trend when people are looking for alternative sources of income. As a company, we want to provide a better home for pets while their owners are away and empower pet lovers with tools so they can earn additional income watching pets.”

Scientists call for preservation of disappearing grasslands

June 25, 2014

Before widespread urbanization and poor agricultural practices, grasslands covered North America. Today, many of the four major types of grasslands have sustained extensive damage, and some are in danger of disappearing completely. For example, 99 percent of pre-settlement tall prairie grass is completely lost.

If you came to Arizona in the 1880’s, you would have seen swaths of Sonoran Savanna Grassland throughout the south-central part of the state, but now that land is barren and dusty. According to David Brown, an adjunct faculty member with Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, some people do not believe such grasslands even existed. Sustainable cities logo Download Full Image

“Many of these areas have been so badly beaten-up and damaged that it’s hard to find anything that resembles the original grasslands,” Brown said. “For example, once you get out to Red Rock in southern Arizona – that horrible, miserable-looking area that blows dust in your face and causes terrible car accidents – that was grassland at one time.”

Few people realize the consequences of grassland destruction if they are not immediately affected by it. But here in Arizona, Brown said frequent dust storms are a byproduct of lost habitat.

“We’ve always had dust storms in Arizona, but they’ve become much larger because there is much less vegetation now than there was 100 years ago,” Brown said. “These storms often cause serious problems. What was an issue once every five or ten years is now an issue almost every year.”

Brown and Liz Makings, manager of the ASU Herbarium collection housed at the School of Life Sciences, detail the status of Arizona grasslands and grasslands across North America in a paper titled “A Guide to North American Grasslands,” published in the Winter issue of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum’s and University of Arizona’s journal Desert Plants.

The guide contains the most comprehensive grassland information compiled to date, filled with details about the plants and animal species that populate the continent’s 19 types of grasslands. Dozens of pictures are included to show the variety of North American grasslands, and a map highlights the scope of the biome.

“This was an attempt to identify the different grasslands,” Brown said. “They all have different evolutionary histories, different management prescriptions, different characteristics and different species.” Brown spent decades compiling the information, and together with Makings, he finally published the manuscript.

As the most up-to-date resource on North American grasslands, Brown and Makings say they hope the information will be used for anything ranging from environmental impact statements to biotic analyses or inventories. More importantly, they say it can be used as a guide for returning damaged grasslands to a healthy state.

“If you want to restore a grassland, you have to know what the species were that lived there,” Brown said. “We also need to know, ‘What should be here, what have we got now, what’s missing and why is it missing?’”

Makings stressed how important it is to increase awareness of how grasslands are supposed to exist, saying they are nothing close to what they looked like before European settlement in North America.

“We also wanted a snapshot of what the grasslands were like before the impact of grazing, urbanization, desertification,” Makings said. “Grasslands are the most productive ecosystem, and they’ve been seriously compromised.” The researchers say even though some areas are in decent shape, grasslands are at a precarious crossroads.

“This guide serves as a warning. It’s critical we think carefully about how much more grasslands can sustain,” Makings said. “We’re continually losing them to things like oil, gas and farming for ethanol, so we need to be aware and make some better choices.”

Jason Krell

Communication and events coordinator, Center for Evolution and Medicine