ND Business Briefings: August 2023 alumni news and updates
Published: August 30, 2023 / Author: Brigid Reilly
Paw Patrol: Notre Dame MBA’s tech venture seeks to keep military working dogs safe
After five years as a Military Working Dog Handler in the U.S. Army and two deployments to Kuwait, you could say that Sean Conahan (MBA ’23) knows what it means to work like a dog. He’s seen man’s best friend work in challenging conditions protecting top government officials and enlisted personnel alike and knows how fast a heat-related illness can jeopardize a canine mission.
But it wasn’t until he arrived at the University of Notre Dame as an MBA student at Mendoza College of Business that Conahan was able to develop an innovative way to keep working dogs — and, in turn, their human charges — better protected.
Conahan joined the Army at age 21 after completing his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida and was assigned to work as a Military Working Dog Handler. He quickly learned how heat injuries threaten the lifespan and efficiency of military working dogs and realized his role carried a heavy responsibility.
“We would get tasked to the Secret Service all the time,” Conahan explains. “Our dogs were protecting presidents, vice presidents, and prime ministers. On deployments, entire units were counting on us to lead the way.”
With missions depending on the health and aptitude of the dogs, the canines’ conditions became of utmost importance for Conahan and his peers. The problem, he soon realized, was the lack of efficient protocol to prevent canine injuries due to brutal heat.
Even with careful attention, handlers can struggle to gauge a dog’s core temperature continually when working in warm environments. Wrangling the dogs and recording their temperatures is especially arduous during military operations.
“The current method right now is for a handler to take the temperature with a traditional thermometer. As you can imagine, it slows down the mission,” says Conahan.
This realization led Conahan to found SeekSmart, with a focus on developing technological solutions to enhance the safety of working dogs and their handlers as they operate in dangerous situations, such as a battleground or the site of a natural catastrophe.
SeekSmart launched in the summer of 2022 with the help of the Notre Dame IDEA Center, the University’s commercialization hub dedicated to expanding the technological and societal impact of the University’s innovations. Under the guidance of Mendoza faculty, including IT, Analytics, and Operations professors Nick Berente and Sarv Devaraj, Conahan applied for funding from the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The venture advanced through Phase I, receiving a financial award of $70,000 to conduct a 90-day feasibility study.
His proposal for Phase II funding ultimately wasn’t successful, but SeekSmart won $10,000 as the best graduate venture in this year’s McCloskey Business Plan Competition hosted by the IDEA Center. In May 2023, Conahan sought an operations role within another sector of the pet care industry, subsequently joining the Chewy Accelerated Leadership Program in Indianapolis. He also recently began working with a team of engineers to discuss prototyping the SeekSmart technology.
Conahan’s military experience has driven the development of SeekSmart and continues to push him toward his entrepreneurial goals. But his experience in the Notre Dame MBA program at Mendoza has also been a driving force.
“Mendoza has provided me with a foundation for business through the group work and projects we do,” said Conahan. “Just surrounding myself with people who are far more experienced has elevated me and allowed me to grow in so many ways.”
Notre Dame provided Conahan with the lessons and resources to flourish in an entrepreneurial setting. Beginning with a brainstorming session in the IDEA Center, his concept has since garnered interest from numerous officials within the working dog space.
The second person in his family to attend college, Conahan explains that SeekSmart was not part of his career plan until he came to Mendoza.
“Notre Dame and the MBA program have changed the entire trajectory of my life,” said Conahan. “When I initially planned on getting out of the military, I was going to apply to the airport and be a regular dog handler. But coming to Notre Dame has unlocked so many doors and allowed me to take an even bigger step — not only being a handler, but hopefully being able to impact this entire canine community on a much larger scale.”
- Milind Agtey (MBA ‘79) and Sunjay Agtey (EMBA ‘18) have launched an accounts payable automation solution to help firms modernize their processes via their company Nimbello.
- Aurelio Banda (EMBA ‘06) has been selected as the next president and chief executive officer of Turck USA.
- Mike Hanlon (EMBA ‘11) was named executive director of the Zionsville Chamber of Commerce.
- Kevin Herbert (BBA ‘88) has been announced as Nature’s Sunshine Products, Inc.’s Executive Vice President & President of North America.
- Jeremy Dela Cruz (MSF ’19) has been named principal, business strategy support and chief of staff to the chief compliance officer at Discover Financial Services.
- Michael E. Gonzalez (BBA ‘10) has been announced as the associate director of operations and stakeholder relations for the Texas Southwest Small Business Development Center Network, which is hosted at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
- Casey McKeon (BBA ‘02) has been named chief operating officer of Monogram Health.
- Rohan Seth (MBA ‘03) has been announced as chief financial officer of SetPoint Medical.
- Gregory B. Stewart (EMBA ’03) has founded the Ball of The Month Club, a subscription-based sports marketing company focused on the growing demand for unique gift ideas in the golfing community.
- Victoria Saravia Bazoberry (BBA ‘19) was recognized by the AICPA as a top 2022 CPA exam performer with the Elijah Watt Sells Award.
- Jonathan Webb (EMBA ’13) has been named to the first cohort of 100 emerging leaders selected to participate in the Obama Foundation’s Leaders USA program.
- Leasha West (EMBA ’22) has been recognized as the first female enlisted Marine who has earned a graduate degree from the University of Notre Dame.
If you are a Mendoza alumnus and would like your accomplishments to be celebrated in our next business briefings story, please submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org.