Dog DNA startup announces $75M in venture funding
By Blaine Friedlander
Embark Veterinary, Inc. – a canine genetics startup company that graduated from Cornell’s McGovern Center business incubator in late 2017 – announced $75 million in venture funding on July 26.
Founded in 2015 by Adam Boyko, associate professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and his brother Ryan Boyko, Embark’s CEO, the company will use the funding to make key hires and strengthen an ever-growing canine genetics database – with a goal to help dogs gain healthier and longer lives.
Like human genetics testing to find relatives or countries of origin, pet owners, breeders, or veterinarians can swab a dog’s mouth, send it in for the results, and confirm specific breeds and explore which genetic diseases the dog may be at risk for.
“We've been in the dog genetics realm for well over a decade, even though we’re nearing the sixth anniversary of Embark,” Adam Boyko said. “It’s been a labor of love to understand the origins of dogs, and through genetics, we are understanding dog behavior, looking for predisposition to illness and to understand canine aging.”
This round of funding was led by Lydia Jett of SoftBank Vision Fund 2, with other investors that include F-Prime Capital, SV Angel, Slow Ventures, Freestyle Capital and Third Kind Venture Capital.
Embark’s Dog DNA Kit can test and determine over 350 breeds, and more than 200 genetic health risks, by employing proprietary genotyping technology that analyzes 200,000 genetic markers, according to the company.
By the end of 2021, Embark will have processed nearly 1 million tests from owners, breeders and veterinarians, according to the company. This creates the world’s largest database of canine health and biological information, enabling Embark to make discoveries about health risks, traits and breeds and help dog owners, breeders and veterinarians to create tailored health care plans.
In 2018, Embark scientists published in PLOS Genetics the first consumer data-driven DNA research that explained why Siberian Huskies are associated with piercing blue eyes. With a large genetic database, the group had discovered a novel link with the dog’s chromosome 18.
In January 2016, Embark joined the McGovern Center, where it began to leverage university resources, according to Lou Walcer ‘74, the center’s director. The College of Veterinary Medicine’s alumni network answered the startup’s surveys, which helped forge Embark’s business model.
“Having the mentorship of Lou Walcer and the other mentors in the McGovern incubator provided valuable lessons; plus we were surrounded by other startups, which were at various stages,” Boyko said.
Embark was a corporate sponsor of the Ruff and Fluff teams at the Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XIII in 2017 – the company swabbed all 78 pup participants. Additionally, Embark became the official dog DNA test of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2019.
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past year, it’s that there’s nothing more important than the health of our family – and pets are a big part of our families,” said Ryan Boyko. “We’re proud to be partnering with veterinarians, breeders and dog owners all around the world to substantially increase the life and health span for all dogs, and – ultimately – for humans as well.”