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Tuesday, Feb 7, 2023

Entrepreneurial Pet Owner Makes Trackable Tags

Oak Park startup Huan is using Bluetooth-enabled “smart-tags” to keep pets from getting lost. The company is just a year and a half old but is now in revenue mode after it completed the beta testing of its system a few months ago. Unlike industry standard microchips, which are only effective after an animal has been captured and brought to a vet or shelter, Huan’s product alerts pet owners directly and in real time if their dog is out of place. “Look at every dog you see walking down the street. Some don’t even have name tags and most have an old-school tag and that’s it. But the technology is there. It’s affordable and even looks cool, but … dogs still go missing. There’s a huge disconnect in the market and that’s what we’re trying to solve,” Founder Gilad Rom told the Business Journal. The company is nearing market validation as it finalizes a distribution agreement with a national pet rescue and advocacy nonprofit. The deal, Huan’s largest yet, will see its tags attached to more than 30,000 animals adopted out by the nonprofit’s rescues each year. Before this, Huan’s clients were primarily individual pet owners who purchased tags via the company’s website. “It should really help save many, many lives,” Rom said of the deal. Pet protection network The Huan system has two parts: the tag and the app. Every two seconds, Huan’s collar tags send out a location-marked Bluetooth low energy signal — the same type employed by wireless headphones and home entertainment systems — to the Huan app on a user’s cell phone or computer. That doesn’t mean Huan users get notified of their pet’s location every two seconds. The system is smart, and only sends a “push notification” if the pet is determined to be in an unusual environment away from its home while it is separated from its owners. A pet can have multiple “owners” registered in the app to include dog walkers or sitters. It sounds similar to GPS, and, functionally, it is. But Bluetooth energy is less expensive, works with smaller hardware and has much longer battery life — all desirable qualities for pet owners seeking a “set it and forget it” solution to pet safety. According to Jack Hagerman, vice president of communications at the nonprofit Pasadena Humane Society, “On a national level, we are seeing fewer strays, in large part due to things like (Huan).” He added that the competing products he has seen all work similarly but vary in terms of size, price and strength of signal. Rom, a software engineer, said his coding ability came in handy to separate his company from the pack by modifying Huan’s Bluetooth signals to have a longer range, stronger signal and longer battery life than competing technology. Also distinguishing Huan from competitors is Rom’s vision to create a “pet protection network.” He hopes to bolster Huan’s existing network by attaching physical sensors with high-range amplifiers to city infrastructure to locate Huan-tagged animals as they move. Rom is in talks with city officials in Westlake Village, Oak Park and Agoura about deploying such sensors in the field. Market entry Rom formed Huan after an incident at an Airbnb resulted in his dog escaping in Sonoma County. He found his companion, but the “what-if,” led him to begin researching pet safety solutions. He launched Huan out of his home office in Oak Park in May 2018. The company’s name interpolates a character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” fantasy novels — an immortal, talking wolfhound named “Huan, the Hound of Valinor.” To test Huan before debuting it on the market, Rom approached local animal shelters offering free tags and subscriptions to the app in exchange for feedback. Among those test shelters are Adopt Me Rescue in East L.A., Dogs Without Borders in Encino, iPittytheBull in Chino and Ady Gil World Conservation’s Rockin’ Rescue in Woodland Hills. “We were hoping for something like this for a very long time,” said Rockin’ Rescue Manager Fabienne Origer. “It’s very good.” Origer said she likes Huan because it lets her monitor the rescue’s dog-walkers, both to see which routes they take and which dogs are walking together and therefore might be more social. “It’s an issue when someone takes a dog on a hike somewhere more remote,” Origer said. She told of a dog who got loose in the Santa Monica Mountains and led shelter employees on a 10-hour search-and-rescue mission. Though they eventually found the dog, she said Huan would have saved them a lot of time. Both Origer and the humane society’s Hagerman said products like Huan don’t render traditional microchips obsolete. “These apps are for location, not identification,” Hagerman said. Now every dog adopted out by Rockin’ Rescue comes with a Huan tag. “I even put tags on some of my car keys,” Origer said. “It’s not just for dogs and cats.”

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