Most people treat their pets like family. Some treat them like actual humans, and enjoy big wet kisses on the lips from their dogs.
So when it comes to pet cremation, it’s not a surprise that pet owners want the very best for their deceased loved ones.
Companah, a Triangle-based pet cremation startup, is changing the industry by innovating the process to make it more environmentally friendly and incorporating IoT technology.
The company, started by husband and wife team Hal and Shannon Atkins, was a part of the 2019 RIoT Accelerator Program and also is a recipient of an NC IDEA grant.
Companah uses a process called water cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis, in which the body goes through a chemical process that reduces it down to bone fragments, which are then turned into a product similar to ashes. The process is known as “green cremation” due to its smaller carbon footprint, and is used on humans as well.
In the lab, the body is surrounded by water, and then the pH levels are increased to speed the reduction, which also renders everything sterile. The process mimics what happens to a dead body in nature—or would, if it was left alone long enough.
Companah has offices in Raleigh, Greensboro and Sanford and services all of the Triangle and Triad areas. The company is the first in the area to offer water cremation for pets, but is competing against several popular traditional cremation companies.
Their business model is two-fold, including working directly with pet owners and also working as a wholesaler provider to veterinarians.
Their funding was mostly bootstrapped, along with some support from family and friends. Hal spent 10 years working in pastoral ministry and grief counseling, and Shannon taught environmental science in high schools. After their kids were out of the house, the two decided they wanted to start a business, and found this opportunity.
“Families spend twice as much on healthcare for their pets than they do out-of-pocket for themselves,” Hal said. “It’s a rather large market.”
The business has been revenue-positive since day one, he said. They originally began their work by subcontracting out to a facility in Virginia, before saving the money to purchase their equipment. Now, the Atkins are looking to hire part-time staff to accommodate growing demand.
Companah is in the midst of taking the next major step in their process—incorporating RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tracking. After studying the market, Hal found that the first thing pet owners ask when receiving their pet’s remains is: “’How do I know that what you’re bringing back to me is my pet?’ What we’re developing is a complete circle of transparency for pet owners.”
Traditionally, pet owners have to rely on a metal tag following their pet through the cremation process. But to the Atkins, that wasn’t good enough. They also wanted pet owners to be able to track their pet through the entire process, to ensure that they were getting the correct remains. This squares with consumers’ desires and expectations to track nearly everything these days.
“We want to look on Amazon and know the steps of delivery for our package,” Hal said. “Pizza trackers tell us when we’re going to get it (the pizza).”
The location of the pet and their current stage of the process will be available to owners through an app. This will increase their trust level in knowing that they’re getting back their own pet, Hal said, which will increase customer satisfaction and retention.
They’re currently developing the technology using a combination of RFID and the similar NFC (Near-Field Communication). In beta testing, the couple keeps finding new information to help them make their ideas into reality. Recently, they’ve been working on incorporating the microchips that some pets already have implanted into the tracking process.
In the future, the company would like to franchise or sell their software, Hal said. Either way, the pet cremation startup is clearly closer to the beginning than the end of its own corporate life.