For this Oxonians at Large, we are crossing the pond to take a look at Natasha Ashton (1993, Modern Languages) and Chris Ashton (1991, Geography), founders of Petplan, one of the world's largest pet health insurance companies.

Natasha AshtonChristopher and Natasha Ashton, the brains behind America's biggest pet insurance company, with their dog Montgomery

When their beloved cat Bodey fell ill sick, requiring more than $5,000 in treatment, it alerted Christopher Ashton (St Edmund Hall, 1991) and Natasha Ashton (St Edmund Hall, 1993) to a gap in the insurance industry. 

In Britain Pet insurance is common, but in the early 2000s it was almost unknown in the US. The Ashtons licensed Petplan US from Petplan UK, which had been selling insurance for over 35 years. Now they are on Forbes’ list of America’s Most Promising Companies for the third year in a row.

We hear from Natasha on how it all began at Oxford:

“Great love and great achievements involve great risk” - Dalai Lama

I took those words to heart, it seems, and they changed my life forever. I didn’t get to choose the Hall; the Hall chose me and in doing so transformed my life. I had all but given up hope of going to Oxford when a call came through informing me that there may still be a few places left at St Edmund Hall if I was willing to take the risk, and so began the journey of a thousand steps. Though I was ultimately awarded one of those coveted few places, it came with a strong warning that the Hall was taking a gamble on me. I have spent every day since making sure that it paid off.

My experience of the Hall and how it shaped my life thereafter is inextricably linked with Chris, whom I met in the library and who has been my constant companion ever since. My best friend, partner and companion through countless trials and tribulations. We were fortunate enough to be married at the Hall, though we always chuckle at the fact that the first time both of us were in the Chapel at the same time was the day that we were married. Today we live in Philadelphia over 3,000 miles away, with our 8-year-old two-legged son and our two four-legged sons, and run one of North America’s largest pet health insurance companies that we founded 12 years ago. None of this would have been possible were it not for the Hall taking that gamble all those years ago and for teaching us to take risks each and every day!

Photographs of Natasha and other female Teddy Hall alumni are on display as part of a celebration of 3,000 women having matriculated at the Hall. The portraits will be in the Hall until the end of the year, and are available to view here.

Images: Fox Business, Oxford University Images