@GMITOfficial #foodinnovators #entrepreneurs

It was a day full of chat, hugs and excitement when we met with the course graduates yesterday. Starting a new business and being an Entrepreneur is no easy task so with that in mind, the course mentors decided to meet with the students a few weeks after the course had finished to see how they were progressing. During Dr. Lisa Ryan’s welcome she referred to the day as a “re-ignition day” and with the help of Brendan Allen (@castlemine) and Ronan Byrne (@friendlyfarmer), it certainly was that and more. Watching the students interact with one another was like watching a group of old friends get together – it was obvious that the course had meant much more to people than just acquiring knowledge and skills, it was the foundation of great friendships, connecting a group of likeminded people and our personal favourite, a great “networking” outlet.

With Brendan and Ronan involved in yesterday’s meeting the students knew they would not be left in their comfort zone for too long and so, after some coffee and networking, the students were back in presenting mode. Each student presented their own journey to the class, from enrolling on the course, to what they achieved throughout and what they are doing now.

It was exciting, enlightening and emotional listening to each student and their success stories. Everyone had shared the same apprehension and nerves at the beginning of the course, some believing they were too old to return to education, others feeling they had no life experience, little confidence and confused as to what step to take next. However, looking around the room yesterday I wouldn’t associate those feelings with any of the people that were sitting in front of me, all we (the mentors and I) could see were strong, skilled, ambitious food entrepreneurs.

We were delighted that the feedback on the course was so positive with many of the students commenting that it was one of the best courses they had ever completed. The practical learning environment topped the list as being the most positive aspect of the course for many. They believed, putting theory into practice throughout the course enabled them to adapt to the entrepreneurial mind set easier and to understand the importance of customer discovery. “Knowing what your customer wants, what they need”, “live and breathe your customer” – these phrases were so commonly used in class that they are still ringing in the ears of the students and influencing them in their decision making.

Some of the feedback and successes shared with the group yesterday included:

o   The course provided me with everything I needed to know about starting my own business

o   I have the confidence to present myself and my product

o   I have registered my Kitchen

o   I am now selling my products in 14 stores

o   I have gained the knowledge that is required to become a food entrepreneur

o   The course was marvellous, the mentors were fantastic and gave us so much of their time

o   By applying the knowledge and skills I acquired throughout the course my business has increased by 30% with less customers, I am no longer a “busy fool”

o   I realised I had more skills than I thought

o   If I had access to a course like this years ago, it would have been a great benefit to me in managing my business

o   I have applied for the food academy

Ronan suggested that the class bear in mind “what to do if it is just not happening”  and work in groups to discuss the issues that may be hindering business progression and come away with at least one action at the end of the session that each student could enforce immediately. The mentors and the students brainstormed, collaborated and established new connections. There was a great atmosphere in the room – positive, engaging and proactive.

One of the students mentioned two words that have hindered her in becoming an entrepreneur to date – Risk and Fear. Two small, four lettered words that can have such a huge impact on a person – words that frequently cross the mind of an entrepreneur and now for the graduates of this course, words that are not that scary anymore!

The day ended with some great catch ups, some delicious food and an inspiring quote from our Friendly Farmer Ronan Byrne: “what will be is up to me”.

Roll on October to celebrate the official graduation of the first cohort of GMIT’S Certificate in Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship course.


@GMITOfficial Food Innovators and Entrepreneurs

It is hard to believe that the first roll out of GMIT’s Certificate in Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship has come to an end! Wow, what an amazing journey it has been for the team, the budding entrepreneurs, the many guest lecturers and myself. We have had plenty of highs, some lows, lots of technical up skilling but overall it has been a fantastic sixteen weeks of creativity, business planning, refining business concepts, networking, lots of food tastings and most importantly the creation of many new friendships.

Last Tuesday, the students worked with consultant Nick Allen (Entrepreneurship and Commercialisation Specialist – Whitwell Consulting) to fine tune their final business pitches. Yes, there were nerves, tension and some sleepless nights in the lead up to Wednesday’s final business pitches but working with Nick on Tuesday really helped to ease some of those nerves. Public speaking is never easy and something that many of us fear (it is phobia for many, including myself, and is known as Glossophobia, I learn something new every day!) but I was blown away by the professional presentations the students delivered last week.

Sixteen weeks ago, on the first day of the course, each student was asked to introduce themselves to the group and many found this a nerve wrecking and uncomfortable experience. Bearing that in mind, it really was hard to believe that I was watching the same fourteen students last Wednesday, as they presented their business to an unfamiliar audience with a new found confidence, enthusiasm and passion – true entrepreneurs. What a difference a few weeks can make!

The student’s business ideas are now a reality for most. The have developed professional and viable business plans and have demonstrated that they can pitch their business and confidently answer questions from potential investors – these students are well on their way to success. With a fantastic panel of in house and guest lecturers, this course has provided the students with the knowledge and skills they require to develop their businesses and become Food Entrepreneurs. We were delighted to work with Brendan Allen (Castlemine Farm), Ronan Byrne (The Friendly Farmer), Declan Droney (www.declandroney.com) Maurice Knightly (Former, O’Briens Sandwhich Bar), Dr. Lisa Ryan, Dr Francesco Noci, Dr. Edel Keaveney and the many guests we have welcomed throughout the sixteen weeks including Enda McEvoy (www.loamgalway.com), Kevin O’Hara(www.independentbrewing.ie ), Peter Boland (www.cases.ie), Nick Allen (Whitwell Consulting) and Olivia Lavelle (www.lingohost.ie) – what a phenomenal team!

Luckily, we continue to work with these high calibre industry leaders as we currently deliver the course to a great class of budding food entrepreneurs on the GMIT Castlebar campus.

Before we parted ways with the students of the Certificate in Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship Galway class, they shared some very kind words:

The Certificate in Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship has been an amazing experience. It is deeply practical, promotes a fantastic entrepreneurial attitude and is taught by the most committed, hands on, experienced and knowledgeable industry experts who genuinely care about the well-being of the students”, Ciara Daly

This course was very enjoyable. The topics covered were diverse and covered in great detail. The dedication of the people giving the course was admirable, everyone was very generous with their resources and their time….I would highly recommend this course” Anita Talbot

“This was a hugely inspirational experience in a hands-on practical learning environment. The delivery was very innovative. I would highly recommend it as a first introduction to business and entrepreneurship or to up skill existing knowledge and experience. It is beneficial to both entrepreneurs and employees working in an entrepreneurial environment” Deborah Coffey

Keep an eye out and support the student’s new businesses being launched over the coming weeks: www.gettingfedup.com, http://www.facebook.com/TheNourishingGardener, https://www.facebook.com/Burren-Natural-Cordials-1751586898404238/?qsefr=1 ,  https://www.facebook.com/boynevalleybroth/, @GalwayColdBrew, The Copper Pear, Julia’s Truck, My Gourmet Family, Synergy Sea Buckthorn, Ali and Lou Cookery School, Sea Mead and Nutribase HQ.

Facts, Figures and Group Dynamics

Its all about business plans, pitches and financials this week as the students on the Galway course met with Declan Droney (www.declandroney.com) to prepare, forecast and finalise their businesses facts and figures. With the final day of the course looming, the students have two weeks to finalise their business plans and prepare to pitch their business idea to a panel of judges, no pressure! Branding and market touchpoints also played a significant part in this week’s lecture with Declan providing the students with an abundance of information and advice on these key elements to business. To end the week, Declan decided to surprise the class by asking them to deliver an ‘on the spot’ unprepared pitch – who doesn’t love spontaneous public speaking!  Although there may be some nerves, the class are excited and motivated (and possibly a little sad that the course is coming to an end) to embark on the next stage of their start up journey. It has been an exhilarating four months to date but a very exciting two weeks lie ahead.

While the students in Galway are busy working towards their final presentation, the students on the Castlebar campus prepare themselves to deliver their first presentation. Working on a group project in conjunction with Café Rua (@Rua_Mayo), the students in Castlebar are putting team theory into practise and finding out how to embrace team dynamics. With a very interesting project to work on, the groups are using the knowledge and skills they have acquired over the past few weeks to implement some very innovative processes. Their first presentation will take place on Friday, 13th May – I hope nobody is too superstitious!

Next week is shaping up to be a very interactive week with Olivia Lavelle (@OLavelle) delivering a social media workshop, Maria Staunton speaking about the Innovation Hub, GMIT Castlebar, and some mock presentations included for good measure!

Fine Dining, Craft Beer and Customer Discovery

Reality hit this week as the start of module two saw the Galway class evaluate their own business ideas and implement the customer discovery process around them. Finding out if your customer is knowledgeable on your product/business idea can be a daunting task but one that our class handled very well. Devising the right types of questions to ask customers and analysing the information gathered has given the students some great food for thought. Combining that with adhering to Brendan Allen’s (www.castleminefarm.ie) lecture on understanding the diffusion of innovation theory, I have no doubt that motivation is at an all-time high in the classroom. They are bursting with innovative business ideas! Having previously met with business mentor Declan Droney (www.declandroney.com) the students are on their way to completing a business plan for their own business ideas, so the following few weeks will prove to be very interesting for them.

While the Galway class were working hard, I decided to hit the road with the Castlebar class and enjoy the sunshine while visiting the Michelin star winning head chef, Enda McEvoy (www.loamgalway.com) and award winning artisan brewery Galway Hooker (Aidan Murphy www.galwayhooker.ie). What a fantastic day we had. Meeting these successful entrepreneurs and learning about their businesses, the challenges, the highs, the commitment and their passion was so inspiring. Both Enda and Aidan gave the students such quality time, they were so relaxed and happy to answer any question the students had. They even let us wander around their premises and sample some produce. It was an exceptional experience and the students were delighted to have the opportunity to meet such influential entrepreneurs. However, it’s back to the books tomorrow as the class meet with Ronan Byrne (The Friendly Farmer) to learn about personality traits and team theory – categorising people, what’s not to love!

When Science meets Food

I am not sure about you, but I for one, never fully understood the science behind food or how they were interlinked – well that all changed after I listened to Dr. Lisa Ryan (Head of Dept. of Naturel Sciences, GMIT) deliver a very gripping lecture to the class. Many of us have heard the words carbohydrates, proteins and fats when it comes to our diet but I am not sure that we fully understand the science or nutrition behind those words. This lecture educated the class on energy balance, food composition, functions of macro/micronutrients, body absorption and food sources. Dr Ryan explained that understanding how certain nutrients and minerals affect the body could influence why people eat certain foods and follow a particular diet. The class were highly intrigued, interested and in some cases surprised to learn the science and nutrition behind certain foods. Knowing this information and being able to speak to someone as experienced as Dr. Lisa Ryan is in food science, will be a great aid to the students as they develop their food products.

Dr. Ryan also discussed the importance of food labelling and the regulation around same, something everyone in the food industry needs to be aware of. Consumers need to be educated about any new product so correct labelling of your food product will serve as both an educational and marketing tool. From now on I will be paying much more attention to food labels and plenty of your potential customers will be the same, so make sure your label is accurate!

I think it is safe to say people are becoming more and more aware of food composition and are more concerned about the health benefits of what they eat. If you are planning on bringing a food product to the market, you need to understand the science and nutrition behind that product and its potential place in the health markets. The saying “you are what you eat” makes a whole lot more sense to me now!

Understanding problems gives us better solutions…

With the classroom resembling a preschool with post it notes, coloured card, markers, plasticine, stickers, scissors and tape at the ready, I really did think I stepped into the wrong class this morning. But no, sure enough once our guest lecturer Maurice Knightly walked through the door I knew it was going to be a very creative and fun day! Design Thinking – a concept alien to most of us but applicable to all of us, was the topic of the day. In Maurice’s own words “to talk about and explain it for the day would bore anyone” but get out there and put it into practise – now that you will remember, and so that is exactly what happened. Design thinking is a process, use it correctly and developing your product or business just got a whole lot easier. Most people start with an idea – it’s a good start I think myself but after listening to Maurice a better start would be to start by understanding. Understand what the problem is. In order to do that observation (not assumption) is key, ask your customers, define the product, ideate using dozens of post it notes, prototype and test the product. By following the design thinking process and keeping the end users needs in mind, you will create a successful product – it’s that easy! To put theory into practice, the students were challenged with designing the perfect piece of luggage, using the design thinking process. With notebooks to the ready, the conversations and observations began and the end results……… 3 very innovative luggage prototypes! Presenting their findings and designing a prototype of the luggage (yes all the cardboard, glue, stickers, markers and plasticine were put to good use) I was intrigued and inspired by the students creations – from customising your own high tech suitcase powered by solar panels and fingerprint scanners, to lightweight bamboo luggage with carbon fibre wheels and a suitcase encompassing every compartment one could think off with a digital tag attached that included a flight reminder alarm (only one of many of its functions)   – the presentations were the most interesting I have ever sat through….and I wanted all three pieces of luggage! It was without doubt a day full of creative thinking but demonstrated a learning curve for most of our entrepreneurs – understand, don’t assume and give the customer what they need!

Know your customer!

Customer Discovery was the hot topic in this week’s class. It is all very well knowing your product, but do you know your customer? Well that was the question Ronan Byrne (The Friendly Farmer) put to the class. Ronan decided a group challenge would be the most interesting way for the students to experience customer discovery first hand. So armed with some short open ended questions, they hit the streets to find out exactly what the customer is looking for and what influences their choices when buying a particular product. With some very interesting results and excellent presentations by the students, we all learnt just how important it is to use Customer Discovery as a tool at the start of any business. Knowing what your customer wants and giving that to your customer is key to any business start-up. Ronan spoke to the class about his experience and how he still uses customer discovery as a tool to develop his business on a continuous basis. So get out there and start asking questions, understanding your customer needs will make developing your business a whole lot easier!


Week 2

Week One has come and gone and we have got through the awkward introductions, meeting new friends, college tours, handbooks, schedules and where to go for the best coffee! So on to Week 2…..

This week starts with guest lecturer – the very successful Ronan Byrne aka The Friendly Farmer http://thefriendlyfarmer.blogspot.ie. Ronan is the owner and founder of The Friendly Farmer – a pasture reared poultry farm in Co. Galway that he has developed from a part time smallholding, to a growing food business employing five people. Ronan also works with the UCD innovation Academy on the Rural Entrepreneurship Course facilitating students in the development of their business idea ensuring bottom up real development in rural economies. Having completed an MA in EU Integration focusing on rural development policy under CAP, Ronan believes that proper policy can shape and enable rural areas to prosper. Ronan is a true innovator and brings a wealth of experience to this course. I, for one am very excited about tomorrow’s class.

Wednesday is shaping up to be a very interesting day as we head to Galway city to meet chef, restaurateur and author, JP McMahon. We will be visiting one of JP’s three restaurants – Aniar, Cava Bodega and Eat Gastropub (http://eatgalway.ie) where JP will carry out some demonstrations and the students will have the opportunity to speak with JP and ask his advice on their food ideas – what a great opportunity to get! From there we are heading out west to Carraroe for a much anticipated tour of Independent Brewing http://independentbrewing.ie/. Awarded a silver medal at the Global Craft Brewers Awards in Berlin and winners of the best Ale and Lager category at the Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards, we are without doubt, delighted to get the opportunity to meet the brewer Kevin O’Hara. I will keep you posted on how our tour goes, hopefully we will get to sample some of that tasty beer!