ENTREVESTOR: Antigonish firm a world leader in veterinary voice recognition

Shawn Wilkie at his office in Halifax

Shawn Wilkie at his office in Halifax

Not many startups can describe themselves as “profitable” before their third anniversary, but Dragon Veterinary can.

Based in Antigonish, Dragon Veterinary provides voice recognition software for veterinarians. Two years ago, when it was just setting out, the company had no sales, but now the product is being used by about 500 vets around the world. The company has funded this growth with just $135,000 in equity financing and a $100,000 loan from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and now it is scaling.

“The biggest news from my perspective is that we’ve got a really strong foundation for growth,” said president Shawn Wilkie in an interview Monday. “We’ve got a solid base of private investors. We’ve got some money and we are making money day by day. . . . We’re continuing to enhance our software and helping veterinarians around the world.”

Dragon Veterinary came to life when Wilkie, the founder of Antigonish-based Robotnik, which provides robotics networks, was introduced by Nuance Communications to Brian Poteet, a veterinary radiologist in Houston, Texas. Burlington, Mass.-based Nuance is the global leader in voice recognition software. The company had a voice-to-text product for doctors and wanted to work with Poteet and Robotnik on something similar for the veterinary industry.

Wilkie explained that the technical vocabulary used by veterinarians is so complex and so precise that it’s difficult to produce software that recognizes the words and places them in the proper context. Any vet using standard voice recognition software on their smartphone would have about a 30 per cent accuracy rate, he said. But by using Dragon, which is available for iOS or Android platforms, they can achieve an accuracy rate of more than 95 per cent.

The company — which has offices in Antigonish and at Volta Labs in Halifax — is continually adding to the vocabulary recognized by the system, especially the names of new drugs. Wilkie said the complexity of this vocabulary provides a barrier to entry for any competitors into its business.

The thrust of its sales pitch is that vets save time by using voice recognition software, which means they can increase their billings. And the fact that it’s a mobile app means that animal doctors visiting farms or homes can make notes on site.

The sales strategy relies heavily on trade shows around the world. The company is attending 26 of them this year, and the total budget for them is almost $300,000. But Wilkie says it’s an effective sales strategy in this market.

“We’re going after doctors who are busy and don’t like people showing up at their office trying to sell them something,” said Wilkie. “And they’re required to attend continuing education every year. We thought this was the best chance we have to get in front of them because they all have to attend these conferences.”

Wilkie said the company’s 500 clients are spread across every continent, which provides strong validation for the product. And given that there are about 300,000 veterinarians in the English-speaking world, he believes the company has only scratched the surface of its market.

“We’re kind of just ready to grow,” he said. “I liken it to a race horse that’s been in training for the past couple of years and is now ready to get on the track.”

Peter Moreira is a principal of Entrevestor, which provides news and data on Atlantic Canadian startups.