Student promotes exotic pet care through business

Cameryn Schafer, holding a lizard, standing next to Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen
Cameryn Schafer, senior in animal ecology, is the co-owner of Spock's Sanctuary, an animal rescue operation for exotic species. She and her pet lizard, Tsuchi, a blue-tongued skink, posed with Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen at the CyStarters Demo Day Reception where she promoted her business model last summer.

By Amber Friedrichsen

When Cameryn Schafer adopted her pet chameleon, Spock, two years ago, she left the pet store feeling misinformed. She started researching reptilian living requirements and quickly realized she was caring for her color-changing companion all wrong.

Schafer, senior in animal ecology, is passionate about exotic pets, which is why she established Spock’s Sanctuary. She and Cole Reiman (‘21 agricultural and life sciences education) opened this animal rescue operation at their home in Fontanelle, Iowa, to rehabilitate and rehome reptiles and amphibians that previously received inadequate attention. They also strive to teach pet owners about animal health and welfare.

“We really prioritize education and make sure people know what they are getting into when they adopt an animal,” Schafer said.

One way she and Reiman communicate their mission is through public education. They give presentations about some of their rescued subjects at community events to promote Spock’s Sanctuary and inform the audience about proper pet management, primarily for geckos, lizards and snakes.

Schafer also offers pet owners nutritional advice to ensure animals are eating appropriately. In fact, she has developed a line of pet food called Nutri-Cubes, which are pre-portioned servings of blended ingredients. Schafer originally started making these cubes for her own lizard before expanding her reach to the rest of the exotic pet industry.

“Nutri-Cubes is not like anything that currently exists on the market,” Schafer said. “The ingredients provide all the vitamins and minerals animals need from natural sources, and I’m working on refining my recipes so they are specific to different species.”

Before declaring a major in animal ecology, Schafer studied dietetics and kinesiology. She said learning about human physiology and comparing it animal physiology has been instrumental to her invention of Nutri-Cubes.

In addition to rescuing reptiles and consulting customers, Spock’s Sanctuary provides boarding services. These short- and long-term care options are especially popular among college students who take a semester off to work at an internship, complete a co-op or study abroad.

Schafer attributes a large part of her startup’s success to her involvement in Start Something College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This initiative within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences helps students with startups strengthen their business models and scale their operations to profitable levels.

As a part of Start Something CALS, Schafer attends weekly meetings for the Student Incubator Program. There, she interacts with other student business owners to ask questions about her own endeavors and learn from theirs. Schafer said the group’s discussions often lead to breakthroughs and new ideas, and she appreciates the sense of community.

“To be in a space with other people who understand what it’s like and are going through what you are going through is really nice,” she said. “We are able to come up with solutions to each other’s problems because of our different perspectives and experiences.”

Kevin Kimle, director of Start Something CALS, said the Student Incubator Program was designed to mentor young entrepreneurs with startup ideas or established small businesses. He often arranges guest speakers to join the group and give advice to benefit their businesses, but sometimes students like Schafer are the ones with the most valuable insight.

“Cameryn really understands that a large part of the entrepreneurial process is supporting others,” Kimle said. “She’s working on the frontline of this trending issue of rescuing reptiles, but she is always curious about what others are working on, too.”

Schafer also attends pitch competitions, networking events, and various workshops through the Change-Maker Academy. This program within Start Something CALS awards scholarships to students to participate in least 10 of these on-campus opportunities during the school year.

“Networking events are really helpful to learn from people who have already made progress in their businesses. Pitching has also helped me figure out how to articulate my own company and what I do,” Schafer said. “The scholarship is just a cherry on top.”

She and Reiman were also a part of the 2022 CyStarters Cohort. This accelerator through Iowa State University’s Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship is designed to help students advance their startups and boost their brand identities. During the 11-week program, they focused on improving their marketing strategies. Today, Spock’s Sanctuary currently has a website, Facebook page, TikTok account (@Spocks.Santuary) and YouTube channel where users can seek information about caring for lizards, geckos, snakes and more.

Looking ahead, Schafer wants to continue to grow Spock’s Sanctuary and increase its capacity to accommodate rescued animals. She is also looking forward to launching Nutri-Cubes, which will be on the market as soon as next month.