By Amber Friedrichsen
When Cameryn Schafer adopted her pet chameleon, Spock, two years ago, she left the pet store feeling misinformed. She began researching the living needs of reptiles and soon realized that she was taking poor care of her color-changing companion.
Schafer, a senior animal ecologist, is passionate about exotic pets, which is why she created Spock’s Sanctuary. She and Cole Reiman (’21 Agriculture Education and Life Sciences) opened this animal rescue operation at their home in Fontanelle, Iowa, to rehabilitate and rehome reptiles and amphibians that previously received insufficient attention. They also strive to educate pet owners about pet health and welfare.
“We really prioritize education and making sure people know what they’re getting into when they adopt an animal,” Schafer said.
One of the ways she and Reiman communicate their mission is public education. They give presentations on some of their rescued subjects at community events to promote Spock’s Sanctuary and educate the public on proper pet management, primarily for geckos, lizards and snakes.
Schafer also offers pet owners nutritional guidance to ensure pets are eating properly. In fact, she has developed a line of pet foods called Nutri-Cubes, which are pre-portioned portions of blended ingredients. Schafer started making these cubes for his own lizard before expanding his reach to the rest of the exotic pet industry.
“Nutri-Cubes is unlike anything on the market today,” Schafer said. “The ingredients provide all the vitamins and minerals animals need from natural sources, and I’m working to refine my recipes so they’re species-specific.”
Before declaring a major in animal ecology, Schafer studied dietetics and kinesiology. She said learning about human physiology and comparing it to animal physiology was instrumental in her invention of Nutri-Cubes.
In addition to rescuing reptiles and advising clients, Spock’s Sanctuary offers boarding services. These short-term and long-term care options are especially popular among students taking a semester off to complete an internship, co-op placement, or study abroad.
Schafer attributes much of his startup’s success to his involvement with Start Something College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This initiative within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences helps start-up students strengthen their business models and scale their operations to profitable levels.
As part of Start Something CALS, Schafer attends weekly meetings for the student incubation program. There, she interacts with other student business owners to ask about her own efforts and learn from theirs. Schafer said group discussions often lead to breakthroughs and new ideas, and she appreciates the sense of community.
“Being in a space with other people who understand what it is and who are going through what you’re going through is really nice,” she said. “We are able to find solutions to everyone’s problems through our different perspectives and experiences.”
Kevin Kimle, director of Start Something CALS, said the student incubation program was designed to nurture young entrepreneurs with start-up 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 insights.
“Cameryn really understands that a big part of the entrepreneurial process is supporting others,” Kimle said. “She’s been working on the front line on this trending issue of reptile rescue, but she’s always curious to know what others are working on as well.”
Schafer also attends pitch contests, networking events, and various workshops through the Change-Maker Academy. This program within Start Something CALS awards scholarships to students to participate in at least 10 of these on-campus opportunities during the academic year.
“Networking events are really helpful for learning from people who have already made progress in their business. Pitching has also helped me understand how to articulate my own business and what I’m doing,” Schafer said. “The Fellowship is just the icing on the cake.”
She and Reiman were also part of the 2022 CyStarters cohort. This accelerator from Iowa State University’s Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship is designed to help students advance their startups and strengthen their brand identity. During the 11-week program, they focused on improving their marketing strategies. Today, Spock’s Sanctuary currently has a website, a Facebook page, a TikTok account (@Spocks.Santuary) and a YouTube channel where users can search for information on caring for lizards, geckos, snakes, etc.
Looking ahead, Schafer wants to continue to expand Spock’s sanctuary and increase its capacity to accommodate rescued animals. She is also looking forward to launching Nutri-Cubes, which will hit the market next month.