‘Food has shaped my career path. This course is taking those skills to a whole new level’
KAROL KEANE IS a current student of the DCU MSc Insights and Innovation, a fully-funded Masters programme from the Bord Bia Talent Academy. The 18-month course includes a placement in a dynamic food or beverage company, and students receive a monthly bursary.
It was during a stint living abroad after finishing college that Karol Keane first found a love of food, and discovered the doors it could open for him:
“I moved to Belgium aged 20 or 21 with the intention of one day working for the UN or the EU. I was young and a bit idealistic, I suppose. I tried some internships but the path just wasn’t for me. Then I fell into a job in the kitchen of a really high-quality restaurant. The chef there got me hooked on food and the food industry.”
After relocating to Berlin soon afterwards, Karol was able to use his freshly-minted kitchen skills to secure work:
“I couldn’t speak any German, but I could cook. Food in itself is a language. I could go into a kitchen and show my skills that way. So I had lots of different roles while I was in Berlin, always in hospitality.”
Food continued to shape Karol’s path throughout his late twenties and thirties. After leaving Germany, he moved to Port au Prince, Haiti, to train chefs in a sustainable social development project led by an Irish expats.
By 2014, he was back in Ireland with a job at Airbnb, helping to create locally sourced daily menus for employees at the company’s Dublin office. “The food programme was really chef-driven, and there was a huge emphasis on zero waste production, reducing plastic and serving seasonal food. Those were some really happy years for me.”
Word of the DCU MSc Insights and Innovation programme came along at an opportune time for Karol.
Toward the end of his six and a half years at Airbnb, he had been “looking for a change” and wondering about the possibility of a role that “didn’t involve making food, but was still in the food industry… I wanted to help build a fairer food system for all.”
Those wonderings about moving on from Airbnb quickly became a reality when Covid hit. “My team was part of the 25% of the company that was made redundant,” says Karol.
“It was summer 2020, mid-pandemic. I was thinking ‘What’s next for me?’ Then a fellow chef who I knew from the industry gave me a call and said he’d seen a course that could be ‘right up my street’.”
After doing some research into the Bord Bia-funded MSc, Karol could immediately see the potential for him. “Being stuck at home and out of work was difficult. I had been chatting to my wife about a few projects I could start into, but I just wasn’t super passionate. And I want to be passionate about the work I’m doing. The course seemed like a great opportunity to come out of the pandemic stronger, having learned something new.”
Brand new skills
With modules covering design thinking, personal leadership and global marketing among others, the course aims to foster innovation within Ireland’s food and beverage industry, by upskilling those with a proven interest in the field. “I could see elements of an MBA in there, elements of a design course,” says Karol.
“I knew I’d be learning skills that were all very transferable… and that would help me bring my vision for the future to the next level.”
Fast forward almost two years, and Karol is in the final hurdle of his thesis, with a job offer – at Positive Carbon, an “small and ambitious” Irish startup focusing on tackling food waste – lined up for after graduation. “It has been a hugely inspiring experience,” he says of his time on the 18-month MSc programme.
Two semesters of lectures, plus two work placements, gave Karol the opportunity to “learn from the best people in the industry… The standard of teaching was phenomenal.”
The coursework was challenging, “but I soon learned that you get out of this course what you put in. I spent a lot of time studying, learning a whole new language of business and innovation. And I can really see that standing to me now when I talk to people from outside of the course about my plans for the future.”
But the real highlight of his time at DCU for Karol has been the chance to build a network of like-minded people, who, like him, are passionate about what lies ahead for Ireland’s food and beverage industry.
“I’d love to start a company with a load of them!” he says of his fellow classmates. “We had a really diverse and talented group who had all come from one food background or another. Each person brought so much to the course, and I felt motivated to do and be better because of them.”
Courses like the Msc Insights and Innovation are vital, as Ireland looks ahead to a more sustainable future, says Karol.
“I can see huge opportunities for those within Ireland’s food industry to be leaders in sustainability. This course is training people to keep Ireland at the forefront of innovation, to really lead that charge.”
Do you have a demonstrable passion for food and want a career driven by innovation and entrepreneurship? Get a fully-funded Masters qualification and a placement in a dynamic food or beverage company with the DCU MSc Insights and Innovation, as part of the Bord Bia Talent Academy.
Deadline for applications is 29th April 2022.
This article was first published by thejournal.ie on March 30th 2022.