Richard Cooper, Bandon Vale, on the impact of the Bord Bia programme on his career
Richard Cooper, a recent graduate of the Bord Bia Masters programme, tells us what led him to choose the programme and how it has impacted his career since:
Tell us about your early career and why you chose this MSc programme:
Food is my most sincere and enduring love. I have always loved eating, thinking and dreaming about food. When I used to return home at the weekend from college, my mother would remark that the pig that we kept in a pen around the back of the house was disappointed to see me return, as this would mean less scraps in his trough!
I studied Agricultural Science in UCD, and during the summer months, secured a job working on a local dairy farm. This work entailed stock and grass management, milking the cows and using the milk to produce farmhouse cheddar. This work gave me an intimate understanding of all the factors that contribute to the production of a quality, nourishing and sustainably produced food product. I was inspired by how food reflects the unique combination of people, place and culture from whence it is produced.
On completion of my primary degree, I decided to stay in the farmhouse cheese sector. I was responsible for the production, sales and marketing of the cheese. The necessity of having to be a jack of all trades in a small food business was invaluable experience, as it afforded me a keen awareness of the tenacity and the multiple balls one must juggle to remain competitive and relevant in the ever changing marketplace. Simultaneously, I began to experiment with developing products at kitchen scale at home. I would homebrew various elixirs, bottle them and serve them as an accompaniment to the cheese I was selling at the farmers’ markets at the weekend. The creativity, and alchemy that is fundamental to any food business is an aspect that I always found extremely attractive and alluring. When a fellow cheesemaker sent me an advertisement for the MSc in Design Innovation and suggested I take a look, it resonated with me instantly. The opportunity to get formal training in innovation from industry experts and one of Ireland’s leading universities, could not be overlooked. The submission of an application for the programme would prove to be one of the most important decisions of my life.
Did the programme meet your expectations?
The course content was stimulating from the outset. On the introductory week, we received a tour of numerous domestic food businesses that recognise the value of insight-led innovation. This was coupled with ‘The Apprentice’ type challenge, complete with our very own Alan Sugar style judge and rousing theme music. The challenge encompassed developing a solution to a real problem that students had been experiencing on campus. This was to be our first foray into the world of design thinking. We were hooked.
While participating on the programme, my time was split into two broad categories: working for my host company on innovation projects and receiving academic and industry training. The training was a carefully formulated blend of academic and industry experience that provided my classmates and I with a framework for creatively developing solutions to problems using a design thinking methodology. My placement with my host company was an invaluable experience because I was granted the freedom to apply methodologies in design innovation to projects, while being educated in the commercial facets of the business by my hosts. I was extremely fortunate that my host company afforded me both the freedom and support to enable me to complete the tasks to which I had been assigned.
The programme content was varied and engaging. Modules such as design ethnography highlighted the importance of harnessing empathy and insight as essential ingredients in any meaningful design process. The entrepreneurship module detailed a roadmap on how to bring concepts from inception to commercialisation. Workshops on storytelling and on how to influence people provided us with the tools to convince decision makers of the merit of our ideas.
How has it impacted your career and the way you work now?
The journey of participating on this programme has had an immensely positive impact on my life. The experience has acted as a crucible from which I have emerged as a far more confident, competent and inspired individual. My working style has changed beyond recognition. Although I now approach work in a far more methodical, structured and informed manner the question ‘what might be?’ be is omnipresent. I now realise that ambiguity is a necessary ingredient in the creative process and one that should not be shirked from but rather embraced.
I am currently working as part of the commercial team in a food manufacturing business. Although the opportunity to apply design thinking in my current role is limited, I am using the experience that I am garnering to galvanise my commercial competency and ensure that all future business ventures that I am involved in are not just desirable and feasible, but also commercially viable.
Having completed the programme, I am convinced that food and design are excellent bedfellows as the best examples of each are manifested in the intersection where science and art meet.
DCU Business School and Bord Bia are now seeking applications from ambitious recent graduates who come from a broad range of undergraduate degrees and who want to develop their global food industry expertise.
To apply, please submit your CV and a cover letter detailing your reasons for and motivation in applying to this programme to email@example.com by May 29th 2020 at 5pm GMT.
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