One simple conversation at the BYU–Hawaii Mail Center lead Aubree Cortez and Kathleen Jonsson to a winning idea at the Great Ideas Competition held by the BYUH Willes Center–and will potentially lead them to improving mental health and wellness.
On Nov. 15, 2018, the Great Ideas Competition was held and the winners were anxious to carry out their business ideas. Cortez, a senior graphic design major from Utah, and Jonsson, a junior psychology major from Idaho, were announced as first-place winners in the pre-revenue category for their idea, Pup Me Up.
Pup Me Up is a service for students and full-time employees where they can sign up for a time slot and have a dog brought to them. During this time, the dog will be there to play and hangout with them with no other distractions.
The idea to create this program was to reduce mental illness and to ease worries, troubles, or anxieties. Cortez said, “We want to have a company that will de-stress individuals. We will probably only have a few dogs, and we will make sure they are highly trained. This isn’t like Puppy Barn. The dogs aren’t up for adoption.” Cortez added the dogs would strictly be there for the clients to enjoy.
How did you both come up with this idea?
Jonsson and Cortez said they both worked at the BYUH Mail Center. Jonsson said, “One day we were at work and we were talking about dogs, and I remember feeling really stressed and telling Aubree I just really wanted to snuggle a dog.”
This simple statement sparked an idea in their heads, and they said they started the project together. Jonsson and Cortez said they put a lot of thought into their project and they were confident in their idea.
What is your main purpose for this project?
Cortez and Jonsson said they want to encourage people to be more open about their mental health issues and hopefully make a difference.
They said a lot of people fear opening up about their mental illness and struggles. Stress is normal, they continued, and Pup Me Up wants to inform people that seeking help and de-stressing should not be seen as a negative thing.
Cortez said, “Even if people don’t necessarily have mental health issues, we all face stress. We want our idea to reach the lives of everyone who needs a pick-up from a hard day or just a break from reality.”
Jonsson added, “We want to create a fun and happy environment for people to seek comfort. Playing with a dog and not thinking for an hour or two has a greater impact than we think.”
Paul Wilson, a BYUH professor in digital entrepreneurship, was Cortez’s and Jonsson’s professor during the Great Ideas Competition. Wilson said, “What makes Pup Me Up truly innovative is its ability to focus on an individual's mental health. There are numerous studies showing how a pet increases people’s overall wellbeing but particularly their mental and emotional stability.
“Businesses are investing millions of dollars into corporate wellness programs. However, these programs are only one-dimensional, focusing solely on physical wellness. I think Pup Me Up is going to find a strong interest in their offering. I’ve spoken to them about one multi-billion dollar organization who would be open to providing their services for their employees. It’ll only take a few of these organizations before we start to see Pup Me Up getting some real traction in the market."
Since owning a dog is a difficult, a long process in Hawaii, the two said they are thinking about taking their idea somewhere else for now. Jonsson explained she and Cortez really want to make this happen. “If we are going to start this, we really would start it on the mainland in Utah or something like that. On the mainland, it would just be a lot easier.”
Cortez added the pair both feels there is a huge market in Utah, especially with the amount of universities and large corporations there. Cortez continued, “Our target audience is college students and full-time workers, so we feel this would be a huge success on the mainland, and one day we might even franchise the idea. Stress relievers are needed everywhere, not just in one town or one state.”