April 06, 2023 News
Alberta Startup Is on a Mission to Change the Way People 'Think about Animal Care Forever'
An Alberta-born tech startup is paving the way to improve the lives of felines, one photo at a time.
Susan Groeneveld, Founder of Sylvester.ai (Sylvester), an AltaML venture company, is working towards bridging the gap between cats and preventative care.
While well-intentioned cat parents want to do the best for their pets, Groeneveld said they’re “masters” at masking their pain.
“Millions of owned cats are suffering in silence," she explained. "We often don’t know when they need our help.”
According to Groeneveld, less than half of the estimated 58 million owned cats in the U.S. receive proper care annually, compared to more than 82% of dogs.
“We really want to do better for the species. We can see how underserved they are versus dogs in every way, shape, and form,” she continued.
“Cats just don’t get the same level of care.”
Glasgow Feline Composite Measure Pain Scale
In 2020, Sylvester launched the Tably app to help assess whether a cat was having a good or bad day through a series of captured images powered by AI.
“Cats are notoriously difficult to assess as they are not as expressive as other pets,” said Craig Haney, Head of Ventures at AltaML.
“By using the photos captured to build a large database of labelled cat images, we benefit the entire animal care community including shelters, food, pharmaceuticals, pet technology, animal welfare, and everyone involved in the pets health journey.”
“We’re giving deep comfort to cat parents,” Groeneveld added. “We’ve had people take pictures from their camera roll after their cat has passed away. They’re assessing older pictures to validate that it was the right decision to say goodbye.”
'Measurement of Success'
In early 2023, five pet care startups from across the U.S. and Canada were named the winners of the seventh annual Pet Care Innovation Prize powered by Purina.
Sylvester was among the five winners chosen and the only Canadian organization to be named.
“This is an incredible driver for momentum globally,” Groeneveld said.
“Helping cats and the people that love them is the real measurement of success.”
The Road Ahead
Groeneveld expressed that facial recognition was just the first stop in elevating the tech space, noting that the time is now to help better shape the future of pet care.
“While we are starting with acute pain, what can we learn? Can we start to detect early disease states? Or even help to better understand when a cat parent looks for additional help?”
Ninety per cent of all cats over the age of 12 will develop arthritis, Groeneveld added. With the technology developed through Sylvester, the goal is to help cats with both immediate and long-term pain.
“We can track the health of the cat at home, over the course of their lifetime, and eventually across multiple species,” she said.
“In five years, Sylvester will be firmly grounded as an AI-based company assessing various labelled datasets. Our solution allows the animals to tell us how they are feeling—bringing them their own version of health care.”
AltaML and Sylvester
As a female founder, Groeneveld has experienced first-hand the resilience needed to be successful in the industry.
“Being natural collaborators is a key strength that women bring to tech and business,” she explained. “Don’t take 'no' personally but rather as fuel to pivot, drive deeper, and keep going. Every conversation is an opportunity to make your business better.”
“We need to be intentional about supporting our female founders and hold them to the highest standards,” Haney added. “Susan will open doors for other founders interested in this space, inspiring them to take the lead and build their businesses.”
As a partner of Sylvester, Haney said it’s vital for AltaML to support their growth as they advance the entire sector of pet technology.
“Sylvester will provide unprecedented value to pet parents and veterinarians through their impactful AI tools,” Haney explained. “As the need for this type of innovation grows, so will Sylvester’s importance.”
“Having a shared vision for a greater good is incredibly important as technologies like Tably will change the way we think about animal care forever,” Groeneveld ended.
Sylvester.ai creates predictive health-care products powered by artificial intelligence to improve animal health outcomes across species. The innovative startup helps animals live healthier, longer lives by helping humans be more proactive in their care. www.sylvester.ai
AltaML is a leading applied artificial intelligence (AI) studio and developer of machine learning (ML) software. Building powerful AI tools and pursuing product opportunities through industry-specific ventures, AltaML creates operational efficiency, reduces risk, and generates new sources of revenue for customers. With expertise across multiple industries and access to top AI/ML talent, AltaML accelerates the AI adoption journey with a focus on fostering long-term relationships with customers.
Andrea Dion, Communications Manager