Animal-lover Sophie Tregellis (07-09) was inspired to create her own range of dog biscuits after accompanying her mother to RSPCA dog shows. Spotting a gap in the market for home-made, wholesome, healthy and fun products, Sophie began making the dog biscuits at her parents’ home and selling them at dog shows. That enterprise may have remained only a hobby, had it not been for a chat with a University of Leeds Careers Adviser.
As a final-year philosophy student, Sophie had been thinking about life after graduation. In December 2012 the Careers Centre advised her to book a business meeting with Spark, the University’s business start-up service. “I hadn’t thought that my dog biscuits could be a serious business proposition but, having told the Careers Centre about my interests, they encouraged me to take the idea further,” said Sophie. Now, only a few months after that original conversation, Sophie has not only launched her business, ‘Top Collar’, but is also this year’s winner of the Sir Peter Thompson Enterprise Award, an annual award given to promising entrepreneurs from the University of Leeds worth £5,000.
What is it that makes Top Collar different from its competitors? “I’ve mixed healthy ingredients, aimed at different stages of a dog’s life, with a fun combination of flavours,” explained Sophie. “My biscuits are also hand-made with locally-sourced, human-grade ingredients. I know that owners think of their pets as family members and my range of flavours, such as the classic ‘Sunday Roast’ and ‘Full English’, are natural treats for dogs of all ages.”
Winning the Sir Peter Thompson Enterprise Award has been the springboard Sophie needed to get the business up and running. “Some of the £5,000 prize money will be used to have the products analysed and tested so that they meet all the necessary regulations. The biscuits can then be made at a production facility, freeing me up to promote the brand and launch the website.”
Thinking of a name was a challenge and she called on fellow students to come up with ideas.
“I ran a competition with a £20 prize and within days I had the name Top Collar.” Meanwhile, Sophie started trading at local markets and on her website www.topcollar.co.uk. “I was already used to selling my products at the charity fairs so attending regular markets in York and other local fairs was the natural next step,” adds Sophie.
Just weeks after winning the £5,000 Sophie collected another £1,000 from Shell LiveWIRE which offers advice and awards of £1,000 and up to £10,000 funding to young entrepreneurs. “That money has been used to improve packaging – it means my products have a longer shelf life which is fantastic.”
Along the way, while spending every spare moment cooking in her kitchen in her new flat, Sophie won another £1,000 in a University of Leeds competition. “There is so much support out there if you know where to start looking,” says Sophie. “My university has been phenomenal and offers support for seven years to graduates even once they’ve left.”
Sophie is now focusing on expanding her range and in January 2014 will start selling Fish and Chip treats for cats.