Tools to help disabled dogs take top prize at UGA’s Next Top Entrepreneur 

Florida Atlantic University student’s dog walker and mobility slings take home $10,000 prize in national pitch contest
J.D. Thomerson stands with giant novelty check at Studio 225.


As J.D. Thomerson’s family dog Daisy got older, she lost the use of her back legs — making it hard to use the bathroom on her own.

The homemade frame and sling he designed to assist her in using the bathroom helped Daisy live two more years and launched Thomerson’s pet mobility startup — Pet Healthcare Innovations. The success of the Potty Pal and other mobility solutions he created won him $10,000 at the UGA Entrepreneurship Program’s Next Top Entrepreneur Competition on April 18.

“This hit close to home,” said contest judge and Bain & Company external advisor Hal Kravitz (BBA’79), who added his family dog only had two legs. “It’s a solid business idea and it’s a massive market. People do not care what they spend on their animals.”  

Thomerson, a senior studying mathematics and neuroscience at Florida Atlantic University, represented one of the 10 startups competing in the final round at this year’s Next Top Entrepreneur.

Teams traveled from as far away as California’s Loyola Marymount University and Yale University in Connecticut to compete. Bob Pinckney, the Milton Anthony (Tony) Greene Director of Entrepreneurship, told the audience at Studio 225 that more than 70 teams applied for the event. Atlanta-based financial data firm Fiserv and Athens-based D12 Commercial Interiors co-sponsored the contest.

In addition to Kravitz, this year’s judges included Vivian Greentree, senior vice president of global corporate citizenship at Fiserv; Issac Asher, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Fiserv; Rob Shier (MBA ’04), CEO of D12 Commercial Interiors, and Offbeat Media and Interlock Studios founder Shep Ogden (BBA ’18).

Judges awarded a second-place $5,000 award to Fire Truck Rentals of Atlanta, a party entertainment company supplying children’s birthday parties with decommissioned fire trucks, launched by second-year UGA student Tyler Meyer. Third place and $2,500 went to KnoxBots, an automated service company founded by University of Tennessee third-year student Wesley Pitts.

Other teams who made it to the final round include:

  • Atlanta Sneaks, a collectible sneaker dealership started by fourth-year UGA marketing student Tyler Boerema.
  • Aqua.AI, an online service using AI to pair aging small business owners with buyers who want to purchase their businesses, was developed by Loyola Marymount University student Ezra Pearson.
  • Fanhaven, a customer relationship, merchandise marketplace, and ticket-selling platform developed by Loyola Marymount University students Kaden Bishop and Cole Marston, allows musical artists to control and use their fan’s spending data.
  • Daemo’ by Hydra Innovations, a no-code customer relationship management solution that unifies message traffic from email and social media accounts and allows merchants to automate responses, developed by Yale University graduate students Jimmy Carter and Srikar Godilla.
  • OpenLake, a digital service for integrating and analyzing data from multiple software platforms designed for small businesses, was created by Boston University student Milan Tahliani and UGA graduating senior in mathematics and management information systems Kunal Vohra.
  • Owanga, a rechargeable whole-house battery rental service to serve developing countries, starting with Congo, co-founded by Emory University law student Benedict Owanga.
  • Panoptes, an eye-tracking software developed by a team from the University of Alabama that keeps drowsy commercial drivers and equipment operators from causing accidents.

The University of Georgia Entrepreneurship Program is housed in the Terry College but serves all UGA. UGA launched the program in 2016 with the mission to develop the mindset of future entrepreneurs and prepare students for business leadership roles. The UGA Entrepreneurship Certificate program is open to all UGA students. Most UGA Entrepreneurship Program accelerators are open to UGA students and Athens community members.