Innovation Hours: Pets and Tech – A Winning Combination

Author: Elena Iglesias

One of the delights of working at 1904labs is our Innovation Hours Program. All employees are able to spend 10% of their workweek to focus on four categories of projects: working on yourself, a startup, the community, or the Labs. For the last two and a half years, Beau Herndon, Agile Engineering Lead, Andrew Ulrich, Full Stack Developer, and Kit Menke, Modern Data Engineer, along with two other former employees, have spent their Innovation Hours time working on their new business, PETSHACK.

These 1904labs developers attended Nestle Purina and Global Hack’s “Better with Pets Hack” hackathon in the Fall of 2017. “We were just 5 friends expecting a fun weekend, solving real problems with technology,” said Beau Herndon, Agile Engineering Lead. These five friends’ love of technology and companionship was the reason for participating. They were not expecting to also produce a lasting business from the experience. 

A Winning Idea 

These five developers formed Team PETSHACK (pronounced “pet-shack”) during the “Better with Pets Hack” event, which posed the theme, “How can St. Louis become the most pet-friendly city in the United States through the application of technology?” Team PETSHACK took this goal to heart and innovated a solution that would encourage pet owners to live healthier lives with their pets and incentivize social interactions within local pet communities.

This led to PawCity, a mobile app that helps provide pet owners with a fun, social experience. At first glance, users see a map that locates nearby pet-related interests. Users earn points and unlock rewards for interacting with these real-world activities. It includes other fun and meaningful features like pet-health goals and challenges, friendly competitions, and having the option to donate points to support local animal welfare groups. 


PETSHACK was awarded the top prize for their exciting solution. Additionally, Nestle Purina expressed a desire to further invest in PETSHACK’s solution to help it become a reality.  A few weeks later, a partnership was formed and Team PETSHACK became PETSHACK LLC,  a new company, using technology to better the pet community, with support from one of the largest pet brands in the world.

A Crash Course Experience

Andrew considers this project to be a great crash course for learning how to do a startup. It was a challenge branching out from the technology developer’s role into other positions needed for the business. It was also an adjustment juggling a full-time job while trying to make progress on the startup during evenings and weekends. Interns were able to help lighten the workload. 

“These challenges helped us grow our business acumen,” says Beau. “It was a huge opportunity to collaborate with Nestle Purina…This startup has been a great journey.”

Collaboration with 1904labs 

From the beginning, 1904labs has been cheering on Beau, Andrew, and the other founders of PETSHACK. “1904labs has been so supportive of PETSHACK,” says Beau. “It has provided us with the Innovation Hours time, access to a collaborative workspace, and even business advice from our Managing Director, Sean Walsh.” 

During COVID-19, 1904labs has been dedicating resources to helping startups advance their products in the face of economic downturn. As part of this initiative, some 1904labs designers and developers are working on PETSHACK’s product, PawCity, to modernize and deliver the mobile app across iOS and Android. 

“Having full-time workers dedicated to our company is huge and helps us make great progress! We appreciate 1904labs and the support we feel from our co-workers and the company as a whole,” said Andrew Ulrich. “[1904labs’ involvement] has significantly accelerated our timeline to release and has drastically improved our mobile usability and resiliency”, added Beau.

PawCity, Coming Soon 

PawCity will be released in the iOS app store soon. It provides engaging experiences for pet lovers, support for animal welfare groups, plus insights & marketing channels for pet-related organizations. Users will enjoy new habits with their pets using this fun, interactive world of PawCity by PETSHACK


This is one story of how our team is spending their time during Innovation Hours. Read more about the projects our employees dedicate their time to in our Innovation Hours blog series

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