UEA student launches successful business


A student startup business that has been awarded an EIRA microfinance grant of £3000 has successfully launched in Norwich to huge success, despite setbacks due to the pandemic.

Rachel Lambert, who studied at the University of East Anglia opened the doors on 25th September 2020 to her business, Doggy Paddle Norwich – a unit which houses a dedicated swimming pool for canine companions. The unit provides a safe place for dogs to swim all year round, with water that is cleaned without excessive chemicals and free from pollutants or bacteria found in natural sources. The facility offers a safe and warm environment for the owners to enjoy too.

EIRA microfinance grants of up to £3k are available for students and graduates of partner institutions for projects that either fit within EIRA’s core themes of Biotechnology, Digital Creative or Artifical Intelligence, or that can demonstrate a business proposal that could increase productivity for the region. The EIRA team shortlisted this project for funding as the business evidenced a range of benefits to both dogs and their owners including:

  • A 20 minute swimming session in a pool is the equivalent to a 2-hour dog walk. This is particularly helpful for owners with limited time, or older adult owners who need assistance with exercising high energy dogs.
  • The pool is heated and uses fresh water cleaned using electrolysis with limited chemicals, so it is both comfortable to swim in and safe for dogs to ingest.
  • From an environmental perspective, it reduces the number of dogs swimming in the local area in natural sources. This reduces the amount of damage dogs could potentially cause to nesting areas of birds and mammals which lie along natural water sources.
  • It provides a safe environment for dogs and their owners to exercise together, particularly relevant now for people who are socially distancing due to the pandemic.
  • Exercise is a great way to boost both physical and mental health, improving owners’ mental wellbeing.
  • Similar to humans, swimming takes all the weight off of a dog’s joints, making it the perfect exercise for dogs (and their human companions) of all ages, weights and conditions to enjoy their exercise together.

We spoke to Rachel about her business, which she set up earlier this year with her mother, and found out how receiving the EIRA grant has helped Doggy Paddle Norwich get off the ground.

“The EIRA microfinance grant was such a great support for my start-up. It’s not been the easiest ride with the pandemic delaying our plans considerably, but I couldn’t fault the support I’ve had, from the very first time I walked into the UEA Enterprise Centre with the idea, to the moment we opened our doors for the first time on the 25th September.

I’d been to a similar pool when on holiday near Brighton and couldn’t get the idea out of my head, when I saw there was nothing similar locally I realised there was a gap in the market. With the help of Finbarr Carter and the Enterprise team I learnt how to structure my business plan, understand my customer base and my unique selling points. I set up an online survey to gain some market research and it completely took off. The survey was picked up by the local newspapers, bloggers and even a national magazine (Country Living). This allowed us to collect almost 2,000 responses and it was all really positive!

From here I was pointed towards some help in funding my business, including the EIRA grant and I took the plunge in organising a business lease and gaining planning permission. Our planning and lease should have come through in April, and then the pandemic hit, so we didn’t get into our building until July.

We’ve worked really hard the last two months to get everything ready and adapted around the coronavirus guidance, but we couldn’t be happier to finally be open. It’s been amazing meeting all the dogs and the owners have all been so supportive. Some of them have been following and waiting for us to open since October last year! And now we hope to be a permanent fixture in Norwich, and hopefully even expand in the future.”

Maricia Klincke, EIRA Programme Manager, took part in the Microfinance Pitching Day at UEA where Rachel pitched her business idea to the panel. She said:

“EIRA are delighted to have supported Doggy Paddle Norwich through the business launch and are pleased to hear the team are fully booked until November! The panel were keen to support the entrepreneurial growth of Rachel herself, and indeed wider entrepreneurial growth in the Eastern region. The business proposal was one of the strongest we received. Rachel had a wealth of market research showing demand, had a great social media following despite not being open to trade at the time, and a very strong business plan. We wish her every success with her business.”

You can find out more about Doggy Paddle Norwich through their website and social media channels on Facebook and Instagram.