The startup story of Doodlebug with UVic student and founder, Danielle

“Without the Coast Capital Innovation Centre, I wouldn’t be where I am,” asserts Danielle Lowe, Founder and Owner of Doodlebug Pet Food, cricket-based, hypoallergenic dog treats. The Coast Capital Innovation Centre is UVic’s start-up incubator, providing student entrepreneurs with resources and focused support to start their businesses. Less than eight months from launch, mixing and treat-making equipment was en route to streamline production and meet thriving demand. To date, she’s won eleven awards and grants and sold more than 950 units.

Dog treats were not Danielle’s original concept. Flexiburger, a cricket-based patty for human consumption, was Danielle’s focus in her third year at UVic. Insects are high in protein and highly sustainable once you get past the stigma of eating bugs. The entrepreneurial co-op allows a student to work on their own business idea for an entire semester and gives students like Danielle the opportunity to dive into their business ideas with rich support, while satisfying their academic requirements. She won the $300 PitchIt award for her compelling pitch before starting her specialization. This nurtured Danielle’s confidence and belief in her potential for success.

Danielle encountered more barriers than solutions digging into the logistics and regulations surrounding human food production. Then, her new beloved puppy “fur-niece”, Billie, struggled with food allergies. A serious dog lover, Danielle recognized the opportunity, and Doodlebug was born. During her entrepreneurship specialization at UVic, she won PitchIt again, for Doodlebug. “It was great for early-stage validation and super helpful in refining my concept and pitch,” she shares.

“The incubator programming is like a boot camp for business,” she describes, “we learn to pitch, create business plans, connect with successful entrepreneurs and share our challenges with a like-minded team of people.” It’s currently her third time participating in an entrepreneurship co-op. Danielle values the fresh ideas and extensive access to university equipment and resources, “Plus, the Innovation Centre team is always there to help.”

During her entrepreneurship specialization, Danielle also won $3000 with PlanIt, the Innovation Centre’s business plan competition. This allowed her to refine her business plan and implement learning from sessions with the Innovation Centre. Danielle used this funding to launch Doodlebug and prepare it for farmers’ markets. Since then, she has been selling out of her peanut butter and banana, and pumpkin and apple dog treats online and at the markets, though she is in discussion with a couple of retail locations.

Balancing a business with studies has been a learning experience in itself. “Generally, there is a “right” answer at school. That’s not the case in business,” she explains. Danielle has found a way to navigate both successfully. Her next accolade was First Place in the UVic Startup Competition, winning $20,000, held at the end of the entrepreneurship specialization of her business degree. The funds helped launch Doodlebug and connected her with the local business community.

One of the things Danielle had not considered was the physical toll making a product can have. She received an Entrepreneurship Co-op Subsidy for $5,000, which she set aside to use for equipment. Recently, she was the recipient of the  prestigious Coast Capital Entrepreneur Co-op Award for $6,000, allowing her to order machinery; and grow her business and scale.

When asked what advice she might offer, especially for a young person encouraged to get a degree before pursuing a business, “don’t wait. If you are at UVic, in this program, the incubator is an incredible place to launch a business. There are so many opportunities and resources here.”

Danielle’s business and approach is attracting a lot of attention and acclaim. She made it to the semi-finals for The Forum Pitch and also won the Business Co-op Student of the Year Award for 2022. In March, she placed second out of 64 teams nationwide with St. Mary’s University’s March Madness Pitch Competition, modeled after the NCAA March Madness basketball competition.

As the sole Doodlebug investor, owner and founder, Danielle wears all the hats. A self-proclaimed perfectionist, she learned to let go a little to produce. “You can’t do everything perfectly, and certain decisions have to happen fast.” Autonomy is gold, but at times, she allows it would be nice to have someone handle the finance and marketing.

Danielle loves dogs. One of the many unexpected outcomes of Doodlebug is the connection she has with dog owners. At markets, people want to talk to her about their dogs. This positively fills her with joy. “One in five or eight will be people whose dogs have died. It’s therapeutic. We talk about their joy of owning a dog.”

Looking to the future and firmly grounded in her current enterprise, Danielle’s vision is to be a sustainable protein company. Business and studies are solid, and she just won the Top 10 to Watch with Douglas Magazine. Danielle credits the Innovation Centre for giving her the opportunity to connect, bounce ideas off other early entrepreneurs and learn from professionals. Sharing space with people going through the same thing was invaluable.

The Coast Capital Innovation Centre has been made possible through a partnership between the University of Victoria and the Coast Capital Federal Credit Union. Since 2016, Coast Capital has committed over $1.5 million to support entrepreneurs and innovators at UVic.

Written by Gillie Easdon

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