By Whitney Baxter
What started as an FFA project during high school has blossomed into a growing business catering to the special dietary needs of companion animals.
Arilyn Oatman, now a freshman in global resource systems and agriculture and life sciences education at Iowa State University, was asked in high school to identify a project for her supervised agriculture experience (SAE), a requirement of involvement in the Manor FFA Chapter in her home state of Pennsylvania.
At the time, her aunt’s dog had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Oatman set out to formulate a diet to aid the dog in its battle against the disease, making sure it received the nutrition it needed despite a decreased appetite.
“I never thought it would work,” Oatman said of the project. But thanks to her efforts, her aunt’s dog lived another three years, longer than anyone expected.
Seeing the success of her project, Oatman’s high school agriculture teacher connected her with a research project to study the impacts of non-processed food diets in rats. Her studies included looking at the diet’s impacts on the rodents’ weight gain, glucose levels and diabetes.
“There are a lot of variables that go into research,” Oatman said. “I learned a lot about perseverance and how to write research papers.”
Soon after, she began offering her specialized diets to friends and family members for their companion animals, many of whom had health conditions such as kidney disease, food allergies or diabetes. She asked the owners to collect data regarding their pets’ reactions to the specialized diets to further her research efforts. Thus, Brightside Feeds was born.
Oatman pitched her business idea to judges during the Iowa State University Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship’s College-by-College Pitch Off competition. She won first place in the existing business category for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences portion of the competition and tied for third place in the university-wide finale. The encouragement and bit of prize money she received have helped support her startup.
With a passion for animal nutrition, Oatman would like to expand her studies to livestock, looking at how to healthily grow animals faster.
She learned the importance of finding ways to feed the world’s growing population through her involvement in the World Food Prize Foundation’s Pennsylvania Youth Institute. This experience continues to be an influence: one day, Oatman hopes to take all she has learned to work in international development in Africa, finding ways to get the most out of food available in third world countries.