"The big learning of being in the startup world for me is accepting the huge possibility of things not working out."

My favorite city is: The Thai Islands My dream dinner guest would be: Harvey Milk

Shiv Sivakumar

Sustainable pet food improving the health of dogs and the planet

ACCEPTING UNCERTAINTY. For Shiv Sivakumar, the biggest challenge in his startup journey has been embracing the unknown. Born in Sri Lanka before moving to the UK when he was six, from a young age, his parents steered his focus toward STEM subjects at school. And when it came to his career, he was discouraged from taking risks.

"The big learning of being in the startup world for me is accepting the huge possibility of things not working out, sometimes on a regular basis, because you're making so many micro-decisions that usually they don't all work out. Sometimes that requires taking leaps of faith and being okay with it when it doesn't work out, as long as you're learning the lessons along the way."

Shiv says his "internal wiring" and a long-held need to solve complex problems ultimately led him to leave his job in investment banking and forge a new path with his own enterprise. The business, Omni, is a plant-based dog food company that aims to tackle the growing pet health crisis and the impact of traditional pet food on the environment.

Shiv co-founded Omni with Guy Sandelowsky, a veterinarian and fellow dog parent. Together they noticed that while the pet care industry is at an all-time high, the state of pet health is not reflective of that, with the levels of cancers, obesity, and allergies among dogs increasing. With most of the dog food market made up of processed meats, they teamed up with the UK's top veterinarians to formulate a diet that replaces it with high-quality plant-based ingredients.

After a period of steady growth in online sales, Omni is preparing for its next phase after signing with a major US retailer. While there's exciting growth, Shiv is aware their product is polarizing among particular consumers. "There are a lot of strong opinions in the pet food industry, often not based on science, logic, or reasoning. There's also a lot of brand loyalty. We understand it – everybody is doing what they believe is best for their dog."

Shiv explains that while Omni is focused on creating good health outcomes for dogs and the planet with nutritionally complete and scientifically backed food, "it's not about establishing veganism in pet food. We say, let's cut down on the amount of processed meat you'll feed your dogs because that probably isn't a great thing."

THE POWER OF PERSISTENCE. Shiv's product with Omni is bold, particularly for someone who never anticipated becoming an entrepreneur. As a shy student, he says his lack of wanting attention was a fear of his sexuality being exposed. "Being a gay founder and some of the adversities I've overcome have helped from a perseverance perspective. Those life lessons can be valuable as a founder when you're going up against the odds when entering the startup world and trying to do something new and different."

Reflecting on his journey with Omni so far, Shiv believes his naivety as a first-time founder kept him motivated through the company's challenging early stages. "You feel the excitement that you've found a solution to a problem. We always bring that enthusiasm to the table, which has helped us attract the right type of investors to the business because we were – and still are - extremely optimistic.

"Ultimately, I'm having fun doing something that I truly enjoy, and it's positively impacting the world. If I end up doing that for as long as possible, I think that's a great outcome and a good way to live my life."

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Presented with Pride Here is the first collection of one hundred incredible and inspiring LGBTQIA+ venture-backed entrepreneurs featured in this year's Gaingels 100.