Danielle Saffioti, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of My Human’s Helper, is passionate about animals. Her startup provides innovative solutions for mobility-challenged pets and their owners.
In February 2016My Human’s Helper participated in the Valley Venture Mentors Accelerator Program, a non-profit that supports startups through mentoring and accelerator programs.
Innovation Destination Hartford: Did you always know you wanted to start a company?
SAFFIOTI: I suppose when I look back to the Junior Achievement program I was involved with in sixth grade I knew I wanted to own a dog kennel and made my own business cards. In high school, I saw an article in the newspaper about a woman who was opening a facility for the elderly and their pets. I loved the idea and I think that is still driving me today. How can we stay with our pets longer, even as we age and face mobility challenges?
IDH: Tell us about My Human’s Helper. When and why did you start the company? How did you develop the business concept?
SAFFIOTI: It started back in December 2015 when I pitched—what I thought was a crazy idea—to a friend of mine, Steven Longpre, who became Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer of My Human’s Helper. Steve is in the 3-D printing space and owns his own prototyping company. After he heard of my back injury from a car accident a few years back and worried about how I could continue to care for my own animals, he produced a sketch of what is today named the FoodFetch™.
IDH: How are you building a customer base?
SAFFIOTI: While we are still working on customer development, we believe being curious and asking a lot of questions will help us build a successful customer base.
For example, getting out and polling people who you think might be your customer could prove you wrong. You might discover you have an entirely different market than you thought from sitting inside your house.
IDH: Where do you see your company in the next few years?
SAFFIOTI: In the next few years, I hope that the FoodFetch will have made its way into homes and allow those with mobility challenges the independence to continue to care for their four-legged friends. Hopefully we find that our product provides a solution that prevents animals from being surrendered from a loving home to a shelter.
IDH: Tell us about your involvement with Venture Valley Mentors. How did the accelerator program help to shape your startup?
SAFFIOTI: My background is actually in molecular biology and cytogenetics. I also recently graduated with a Masters in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy from Bay Path University. Being accepted into the mentorship program at Venture Valley Mentors made me realize that there was still quite a bit for me to learn!
Steve Blank’s Business Model Canvas is what I learned to live by. From each breakout session, we also were able to take the advice given to us back to our drawing board. Most importantly, we learned about resources right here in our own community that we might have not known about otherwise. For example, the Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Law Clinic at UConn School of Law in Hartford, CT.
IDH: Any advice for entrepreneurs or startup business owners?
SAFFIOTI: Yes, you should become involved in a support network like Valley Venture Mentors. So many wonderful people show up each month and want to help you succeed in your dreams. The “lovingly critical advice” they provide also help to propel you forward and steer you from falling off a cliff!
IDH: In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.