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Innovative product nets OVC student competition prize

Student veterinarian Marty Metzger, University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College, with his Cattledock productAn ingenious product idea has netted a student at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College one of the top prizes in a student innovation competition. 

Marty Metzger, OVC class of 2021, joined the IDEA Student Innovation Competition last fall, an opportunity that enhanced his business and entrepreneurial acumen but also opened the door to an innovative contest. 

On August 12, 2020, Metzger pitched his product idea in the IDEA competition’s finale, walking away with the second place prize of $5,000. Metzger also won the Audience Favorite award, which will provide a $5000 scholarship to an OVC student to attend the 2021 Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy Summer Internship Program. 

Part of the Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy, the IDEA Competition provides student veterinarians with a webinar-based curriculum, covering the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and how to start a business - from customer discovery and how to build a pitch deck to modern leadership and organizational design principles. The aim, to help student entrepreneurs get their business ideas into the real world. 

The IDEA Competition includes a guest speaker series with business leaders and successful entrepreneurs from across the veterinary profession and beyond. 

Metzger completed the IDEA program in fall 2019, while continuing his full time third-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) studies at OVC. 

“The program is a cross between a business course and a contest,” explains Metzger. “We would have online meetings and classes each Tuesday and Thursday night where we learned how to develop a start-up and run a business. We had incredible guest speakers.”

Students were required to provide three submissions over the course of the program, each time refining the business model for a product they are developing until only three students or teams, out of an initial 33 from universities across North America, remained in the running for the contest finale.  

This year’s finale was originally scheduled for March at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced its postponement and move to an online format on August 12. 

For the finale, each student prepared a 10-minute pitch about their product, followed by a question and answer session with the contest judges.  

Metzger’s product is Cattledock, developed over the past three years, working with his father, OVC DVM 1987 alumni Ken Metzger, who owns Metzger Vet Services near Linwood, Ontario. 

Metzger and his son had been seeing an increase in digital dermatitis or strawberry foot in cattle herds they regularly visit to provide herd health. 

A common disease, digital dermatitis can cause lameness in cattle. It is transmitted through contact and can easily spread through a herd.

Not satisfied with labour intensive solutions that were currently available to cattle farmers, Metzger developed a foot-spraying machine that allows cattle to automatically treat themselves. 

Student veterinarian Marty Metzger, University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College, with his Cattledock product.The standing station works on a relatively simple premise. Cattle enter the unit to access a water bowl. While there, the unit sprays their feet and weighs them. Not only is it a low-stress approach for cattle, it is an easy-to-implement solution for farmers. 

During the summer following his third year at the U of G’s Ontario Agricultural College, and before his first year of veterinary studies, Metzger developed his first prototype. 

“An Ontario cattle producer took a leap of faith and let us try it at their feedlot. It proved our concept,” says Metzger. “We could treat cattle in an efficient way that was low stress for the animals and labour efficient for farmers.”

He continued to make iterations to the original prototype during his first year of veterinary school, testing a second prototype during the summer of 2018. With positive results and more refinements, he rolled out a third prototype in the summer of 2019. 

Metzger has steadily refined the innovation, working with engineers to finesse the electronics that power the unit.  Farmers who piloted the unit for Metzger provided useful feedback and direction.

During the fall of 2019, Metzger was also asked to speak at the Ontario Cattle Feeders Convention in London, Ontario. It was the perfect opportunity to get additional feedback from Ontario cattle producers.

The current Cattledock machine can now weigh cattle, spray on treatment for digital dermatitis and read RFID tags on individual cows, all while being connected to the cloud. 

“Throughout the IDEA program, I developed more ideas to add to my product and came up with the Cattledock name and logo,” he adds. “I also focused on the importance of customer pains and gains, drilling into what the customer needs with this product and how to best meet that need. This helped me refine my business model and focus on what was important.”

Meanwhile, work continues on the product. Adds Metzger: “We have the fourth prototype ready for testing and the software is in beta stage. If all goes according to plan we plan to start selling the Cattledock machines in 2021.”