Innovative business supporting wild swimming scoops this year’s Grand Idea award for RAU student

26 May 2023

An innovative and sustainable project which will help wild swimmers and cold-water dippers to access cold water safely has been named as this year’s Grand Idea at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) annual awards.

Set up by 25-year-old RAU student Chris Baker, Water Mate™ will offer a range of durable, effective and sustainably produced products, built from organic materials and recycled ocean plastic, to enable wild swimmers to know exactly how cold the water they are entering is, and how long they have been in for, thus keeping them safely within their own limits while receiving all of the physical and mental wellbeing benefits being in open water provides.

Chris said: “Winning the Grand Idea competition is the culmination of all the hard work I put into the amazing opportunities I have had throughout my time at the RAU - from my incredible entrepreneurship module, combined with all of the workshops and guidance provided by the University’s Enterprise and Entrepreneurship team.

“The £5,000 Grand Idea prize will mean I can properly launch my business and take it from a concept to a reality. I am aiming to manufacture and market Water Mate’s first products in the UK this summer.”

Now in its 16th year, the RAU’s Grand Idea competition is part of the University’s award-winning Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programme which provides a supportive environment for students to develop and launch their ideas. The competition invites RAU students to pitch their business ideas to a panel of experts in a Dragon’s Den-style event.

This year’s Grand Idea judging panel consisted of retail consultant and RAU Honorary Fellow Christine Cross; Former Dragon’s Den contestant, food entrepreneur, and RAU Honorary Fellow Levi Roots; and Graham Pollard, Chief Executive Officer at the RAU; alongside two RAU alumni, previous Grand Idea winner eco artist Jen Winnett, and previous Grand Idea finalist Scott Hill from Old Mill Accountants which also sponsored the runner up’s prize.

Winner Chris, who grew up in a village near Bath and studied a foundation degree in Agriculture and Farm Business Management followed by a top-up degree in International Business Management at the RAU, added: “Despite being raised in a non-farming family, studying at the RAU was a natural progression for me following a childhood of working on a heavily diversified sheep farm in my village.

“Similar to many Grand Idea entrants, the University’s prestigious Enterprise program has been a highlight of my time at the RAU and has truly enhanced my business knowledge, passion, and network.

“The skills of the Enterprise and Entrepreneurship team, combined with the experience of internationally renowned businesspeople, running free specialist workshops throughout the year as part of the Enterprise program, provides an exceptional series of opportunities for any aspiring entrepreneur looking to make a difference in the world.

“To any prospective, or current, students at the RAU - make the most of this support whilst you can! Grant funding and the high-level business guidance does not come cheap on the outside world! A big thankyou to the whole RAU Enterprise team and all my lecturers whose support over the last four years has made starting this business possible.”

The runner up, who received a prize of £500 investment in her business, was 21-year-old RAU Applied Equine Science and Business student Morgan Dutton whose business, Blazing Browbands, makes and sells bespoke equestrian products including various types of browbands, stirrup covers, and soundproof ear bonnets for horses.

Morgan Dutton runner up Grand Idea competition

Morgan, who is originally from Cheltenham, said: “I started making browbands for fun back in 2014 when I was 12 years old. After I made a few for myself and friends I decided to start advertising them on Instagram and they were really popular.

“However, as my education took priority, My Little Browband Business, as it was called at the time, became pretty much dormant. I started it up again during my gap year in 2020 and since then I've built the business up and decided that I want to pursue it as my career with more exciting products joining my existing range later this year.

“I am really pleased to have been selected as the runner up in this year’s Grand Idea competition. The support and access to resources that the RAU’s Enterprise and Entrepreneurship team provides is exceptionally helpful for a young entrepreneur.

“As someone who struggles with public speaking and confidence, the Enterprise and Entrepreneurship programme has been amazing at helping to develop me as a person which has given me the skills to be a better businesswoman. The programme itself was a large contributing factor as to why I chose to study at the RAU in the first place.”

Chair of the judging panel, Christine Cross, said: “As ever, this year’s contenders for the Grand Idea surprised, amazed, and delighted our panelists. In particular it was great to have two alumni of the RAU Grand Idea amongst the judging panel – proof of the impact this event has on young people’s lives and fortunes.

“The varied ideas are always hard to choose between and we always back the individual as well as the idea, confident that the RAU’s Enterprise and Entrepreneurship team will find them suitable mentors and allow them all to excel to their full potential.”