Student Profiles

Startup Profile: Adoptimize

Jessica Schleder may not have set out earlier in her career to develop a pet adoption industry-revolutionizing technology, but her love for rescue animals meant she simply couldn’t help but work to find a better solution to the problem.

Jessica Schleder may not have set out earlier in her career to develop a pet adoption industry-revolutionizing technology. But when you feel as passionately as she does about improving the experience and outcomes of animal rescue, she simply couldn’t help but work to find a better solution to the problem. And passionate she is – just ask Ruth (her rescue dog) or any one of her many foster dogs or cats she’s helped over the years.

With 5 million pets entering the U.S. animal shelter system each year, sadly, nearly a quarter of these are put down due to limited capacity. At the same time, pet ownership is booming: almost 70% of American households have a pet. So where is the disconnect between the supply and demand? 

In part, it’s a result of shelter organizations that lack the tools and technology to effectively photograph their adoptable pets and promote their inventory to potential adopters. And they can hardly be blamed – with the constant onslaught of new pets coming in the door, the intake and documentation process must be as efficient as possible. Making matters worse, the energy that makes many dogs so lovable also makes capturing an attractive image of them challenging, and the stress of the shelter environment where photos are taken also complicates the effort. When 90% of future pet adopters are starting the process and comparing photos online, some pets simply never have a chance.

Adoptimize has solved this issue by automating great pet photos, selected with an AI algorithm from brief video recordings. Adoptimize’s proprietary technology finds and edits the best shots saving time and trouble from staff and volunteers who otherwise struggle to take and edit photos for a (rarely great) resulting image. The result? Increased adoption and reunification rates, which translates to more capacity, decreased shelter operating costs, and most importantly, less need to euthanize perfectly good, but unadopted pets.

So how does it work? The algorithm reviews a short video clip for a number of elements including movement, when the animal is looking at the camera (based on maximum eye detection), and unique poses. As a “deep-learning” technology, Adoptimize is also always improving its performance based on which photos selected result in adoption.

Adoptimize Before After

In the market for less than a year, Adoptimize already has already processed 6,000 dogs from six clients in California, Texas, and Florida and the outcomes have been nothing less than incredible: A shelter in McAllen, TX saw a 143% increase in dogs reunited with their owners. Palm Beach, FL saw a 43% reduction in length of stay (saving them $65,000 in just two months), and El Paso, TX saw a 181% increase in adoption rates.

“I started rescuing pets when I was six,” said Jessica. “I went to the USC MBA program in order to move into and help solve the challenges of the animal shelter industry. And opportunities like the Blackstone Launchpad Summer Fellowship and the XX Fellowship 2020 by Wefunder have provided me with critical resources and networks to expand further the utilization of Adoptimize.”

Impact of Coronavirus

The current pandemic has only increased the urgency – and opportunity – for Adoptimize to help make a truly transformational change. As financial hardship forces many individuals to surrender their pets, shelters have had to pause their work to ensure employee and volunteer safety, and many have already reported a nose-dive in adoption. According to Jessica, “It’s going to be a bad year for pets.”

But with more people working remotely from home and less business travel, the labor market transition may create demand from some who were otherwise “too busy” but can now adopt or foster a pet. At the same time, by meeting with more shelter executives around the country on video conference, rather than time-consuming cross-country travel for in-person meetings, Jessica has also been able to spread the word and prove the impact of Adoptimize to even more shelters.

LaunchPad Lessons and the Future

In the second week of the Fellowship, Adoptimize expanded beyond its original Adoptimize Enterprise shelter-level offering and launched Adoptimize Foster (developed with the support of Amazon Web Services and Best Friends Animal Society), which shelters can offer free of charge as a mobile app to volunteers fostering their animals.

In the weeks since Adoptimize Foster’s launch, Jessica has also experienced a fundamental confirmation of her long-term growth plan: shelters need just as much, if not more, help effectively and efficiently capturing adoptable cat photos. Nearly ⅓ of images uploaded to the platform have been of cats. This significant demand (people literally putting cats in the dog machine) means Jessica and her team are now rapidly building a cat-based MVP.

It is too soon to know if Jessica will end rescue animal euthanasia with Adoptimize, but until then you can be sure she’ll be dog (and cat!) tired from working towards this goal.