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Solution to sustainably comfort pets wins $10,000 prize in UGA’s FABricate contest

By for CAES News

Every pet owner wants their pet to feel safe and secure, especially on daunting trips to the veterinarian’s office. One major hurdle is the frigid stainless steel tables that offer an unappealing surface for animals that are used to the comfort of home.

During the 2021 University of Georgia Food, Agribusiness and Entrepreneurial Initiative (FABricate) pitch competition, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine student Greena Kim presented a spectacular solution, winning the $10,000 grand prize for AutoMat — a retractable non-slip mat that can self-disinfect.

Kim teamed up with AutoMat co-founders Alyssa Gutierrez, a UGA veterinary medicine student who received degrees from UGA biological science and Spanish in 2020, and Madison Luker, a student in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, to develop a blueprint for the invention during the 2018 Animal Health Hackathon hosted by UGA.

“AutoMat can be used in veterinary clinics everywhere,” said Kim. “By having the retractable non-slip mat, pets will feel more secure when they receive their physical exams.”

Beyond increasing a pet’s comfort level, AutoMat adds value for clinics trying to reduce their use of chemical disinfectants and material waste by using an integrated UV-C disinfection component that makes operations more efficient and effective.

The team plans to put the prize to use in getting their product to market.

“We will use the money for the next stage of AutoMat’s product development and marketing so that we can expedite its entry into the veterinary market and beyond,” said Kim, who hopes to create a positive impact on animal welfare.

Outside of the veterinary sector, applications for AutoMat’s technology range from areas such as food processing, laboratories and mass manufacturing, according to the team’s business proposal.

A growing culture of creativity

Chris Rhodes, director of industry partnerships and project-based learning for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, praised the team’s invention and the quality of the FABricate competition as a whole.

“I was absolutely blown away by the quality (of the competition),” said Rhodes, who coordinated the pitch competition held at the new UGA Innovation District building March 24. “The quality of all the contestants was so high, that it wasn’t really clear who would get to the finals, and it definitely wasn’t clear which finalist was going to win. But AutoMat developed a product that solves an important problem, with a clear unit economic value, a large growth runway in a growing market and a team of experts that have refined the product, plan and pitch, so they prevailed.”

In just the second year since CAES opened the competition to the entire university student community, the number of entries has steadily increased.

“We have had higher participation from contestants this year in Terry College of Business entrepreneurship programs like IdeaAccelerator and other Innovation District resources,” said Rhodes. “We have such a terrific wealth of innovation resources at the university level, and we were really trying to get people to engage.”

‘Inspiring’ finalists, women of color 

Each of the five finalists competing in this year’s competition represented unique businesses and inventions ranging from handmade soaps to novel horticultural solutions. In addition to Kim's AutoMat, the finalists included:

  • Kamaya Brantley – MAIA Aquatech, an aquaponics solution to provide fresh food to food deserts
  • Adrian Robbins – Aglite, a UVC sterilization solution for horticultural and agricultural tools to prevent plant disease
  • Nisha Kavalam – Out of the Basket, a custom outdoor experience and picnic provider
  • Kristen Dunning – Gently, a range of herbal skincare products

“The best part of FABricate was seeing all the amazing ideas and companies that my peers were creating,” said Kim. “It was especially inspiring to see that the top five finalists were all women of color who were dedicated to developing companies that can have a real impact in our world.”

AutoMat’s victory aligns itself with previous FABricate winners VTasteCakes and HerbGirls, a pair of thriving companies established by UGA alumnae.

About FABricate

FABricate is an annual entrepreneurial pitch contest where students develop their idea for a new food product, new agricultural technology, new food or agricultural-related business or new environmental or sustainable business.

This contest is sponsored by a gift to CAES from Keith and Pam Kelly, owners of Farmview Market in Madison, Georgia. Keith Kelly is a CAES graduate, earning a bachelor's degree in agricultural economics in 1980.

To learn more, visit caes.uga.edu/fabricate.

Sean Montgomery is a public relations coordinator for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
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